Teaching Nutrition from the Ground Up
Encouraging kids to reach for a nectarine instead of a candy bar isn't easy, but if they put some muscle in growing their food, they'll probably want to taste the fruits of their labor.
Community gardens have become both an educational and marketing tool, says Veronica Carmona, a foods & nutrition major. Health classes may give nutrition facts and tips, but gardens make the concepts more appetizing.
As part of a community nutrition course taught by lecturer Jasmin Ilkay, 12 foods & nutrition students volunteered more than 300 hours during the summer to install edible gardens at San Antonio High School and El Roble Intermediate School in Claremont. Students also created a marketing plan, including a newsletter, brochures and a slogan, "Let's Grub," to encourage a wholesome lifestyle.
"We're trying to give them a different spin on the words 'fast food,'" Carmona says. "When they want fast food they can go into the garden and get something fast."
Community nutrition courses often send college students to teach workshops on healthful eating at local schools or community centers. Ilkay wanted to challenge students with a "start-to-finish" project that required research, working with school officials and a little bit of sweat.
The garden installations, which were supervised by Ilkay and Assistant Professor Sharonda Wallace, feature plants that aren't difficult to maintain, can be incorporated into the school lunch and thrive in Claremont's climate. They include: onions, lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, chives, peaches, pomegranates, fennel, kale, squash, cabbage, grapes, guavas and strawberries. Students also installed drip irrigation and benches, as well as a chicken coop at El Roble. Regenerative studies graduate student Andrew Kanzler ('09, landscape architecture), designed the spaces and helped build box planters for the vegetables and herbs.
After the school year begins at San Antonio and El Roble, their students will be responsible for maintaining the garden and harvesting produce. Outdoor work will be reinforced with nutrition classes as well as a junior chef academy course at El Roble that provides hands-on cooking. Most of the fruits and vegetables will supply school cafeterias and salad bars in Claremont Unified School District.
"Community gardens and school gardens are the new hot thing," says Claire McLaughlin, a foods & nutrition graduate student. "We're getting greens into the classroom and saving money."
Rick Cota, Claremont Unified's food services director, says he needed Cal Poly Pomona's nutrition experts to create gardens that produce fresh food, demonstrate the science of plant cycles and are sustainable.
"A lot of people know what kind of food is good for them, but not why. We want our students to understand how food affects their health and wellness," Cota says. "This project will not only teach students about eating fruits and vegetables every day, it will educate their families."
(Top photo: Lissette Fitoria, a senior, plants vegetable seedlings at El Roble Intermediate School in Claremont Aug. 12. Bottom photo: Professor Sharonda Wallace and Amanda Hughes load sod into a wheelbarrow to prepare a field at San Antonio High School for gardening on Aug. 5.)