Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
With cockleshells and silver bells and pretty maids all in a row.
When that 18th century rhyme was written, nearly every home-even
in urban areas- had a garden that provided the basics of daily meals
and sustenance to keep the family alive and healthy through the
winter. Every child in the family helped with weeding and watering,
harvesting and cooking. Children grew up outdoors with physical
work and play. They ate what they grew, and learned about the world
as they worked on the business of daily living.
The garden at my aunt’s farm was five generations old. It
was planted in the 1840’s by the first settlers in the area,
and had sprawled to a quarter acre by the time I was old enough
to tell the difference between a plant and a weed, and was put to
Once in the garden, I ceased being a fussy city kid and became
an omnivore. I loved to coax sweet little baby carrots out of the
ground, rub the dirt off on my shorts and crunch away, or feel around
in the earth for marble-sized new potatoes to eat. We’d nibble
on little ruffled salad greens, or pull a fistful of baby turnips
and eat those, or throw them at each other’s heads. Pea vines,
all lacy and curled, offered irresistibly crunchy peas tucked into
their little cocoons-far tastier raw than even boiled with a lump
My aunt made jam from tiny, seedy raspberries, full of the taste
of sun, that grew on lush, spiky canes that arched over our heads.
Outside her kitchen window, a peach tree basked in the radiated
heat from the brick wall of the cook shed and grew peaches so velvety
and fragrant they made you dizzy; those she poached in heavy syrup
and set the jars along wooden shelves in the stone-walled cellar,
capturing the golden taste of summer all winter long.
By late July, there was corn and asparagus, pole beans and early
tomatoes, radishes and baby onions, and small, soft, dark-red strawberries,
so ripe that they burst in your mouth.
Oh, what a paradise it seemed. And how few of our children today
will ever get to know the taste of a gritty-sweet carrot, right
out of the ground? Things have changed dramatically: how we live
and especially, how we eat.
In America today, we eat too much and do too little. As a result,
too many kids are turning into piñatas: round and sturdy
on the outside, but full of junk on the inside.
The outlook for our little pudge muffins is alarming. Half the
state’s schoolchildren fail their annual fitness test, and
a third of them are overweight. The net result is that our children
are looking less like Tom Sawyer and a lot more like the Pillsbury
Kids loll in front of video games and television shows instead
of playing outside or doing chores. Supermarkets are full of fat-laden,
heavily processed and chemically enhanced packaged foods that are
also very expensive.
Millions of dollars a year are spent advertising sugar and fat-laden
‘foods’ to our children via television advertising and
‘placement’ (including, shockingly, in schools themselves,)
to the point where some children don’t understand the difference
between orange soda and orange juice, or potatoes and potato chips.
It gets worse. The California Center for Public Health Advocacy
states unequivocally that if we don’t change our ways, our
children are at extraordinary risk in later life for developing
the nation’s top four killer diseases: heart disease, cancer,
stroke and diabetes.
INTO THE GARDEN
Given the choice, any self-respecting child will choose flaming
McCrispies and chocolate sugar bombs over a carrot. (I didn’t
have the choice.) The food industry has our human senses precisely
analyzed, designing edible (or at least non-toxic)substances exactly
engineered to make you crave their products. Children’s’
taste buds, in particular, are wired to respond almost addictively
to those unhealthy extremes of texture, sugar, salt and fat.
The school gardens can teach urban kids, who may not have a yard
of their own, what really fresh food tastes like, re-educating their
palates and encouraging healthy eating habits. The difference between
real food and fast food first must be experienced and assimilated.
The garden can teach about judging food quality: this berry tastes
better than that berry. It can demonstrate a different way of life,
and change priorities.
For teachers, there’s the opportunity to teach holistically
about sciences, food, nutrition and the environment. Gardens demonstrate
the interlacing of life sciences: biology, agronomy, climate, botany,
and humanity’s role- a big picture of the environment. Gardens
teach recycling, composting, water conservation, organic growing
versus dumping chemicals onto food. It can teach kids that there
are ‘good’ bugs as well as bad ones. They learn that
our environment must be healthy, protected and respected.
In a garden, any child will begin to sense the generous force
of nature that can magically make a seed grow and bear fruit, giving
them something good to eat. And they gently learn about the unmasterable
mystery that gives to each living thing a span of days, and then
gathers it back. They learn about seasons and cycles, responsibility
and reward, loss and acceptance, endings and beginnings. They learn
about patience. They learn that failures can often be plucked up
and tossed on the compost heap to nurture something else.
But is school the place for this? Are gardens an effective tool
for learning or just a sentimental, Rockwellian fantasy?
“The garden is the ultimate way to teach, and can teach
us a lot of lessons,” says Janice Duvall of The Green Machine,
a mobile project from the San Diego County Office of Education which
presents interactive workshops on gardening at county schools.
“The world is our garden,” Duvall says. “We
need to learn to take care of it.”
One person who could assure you that there’s nothing wrong
with an emotional attachment to gardens would be legendary chef
Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley. Waters’
dedication to produce from small farms and backyard gardens sparked
the birth of California cooking 30 years ago. She is still very
much a part of this small, green revolution, because of a rundown
school she drove by every day on the way to her restaurant.
“I got thinking,” she said,” about what could
be done for this school.” So several years ago, Waters and
a dedicated cadre of parents, teachers and gardeners adopted the
blighted elementary school in Oakland, and worked something amazing.
In a few years, the schoolyard was literally in bloom with healthy
vegetable gardens which the kids themselves, aided by volunteers,
watered, weeded and harvested. Like rabbits, the students started
to nibble on what they grew: a pea here, a lettuce leaf there, and
before you could say Jack Sprat, they were avidly eating what they
had snubbed only months before: fresh greens and tomatoes, corn
and beans, herbs and lettuces. Not only would they taste, they began
to get interested in preparing and cooking what they had grown.
Waters claims that the whole tone of the school was transformed
as well, from the ground up, from another tired urban school to
a school community bursting with pride and accomplishment. Her photo
presentation of this project to a group of hardened women chefs
at the 2000 Women Chefs and Restaurateurs convention in San Francisco
had most of the attendees snuffling into tissues by the end.
Waters’ school garden experiment, along with the successes
of many other schools, demonstrates that even in the most difficult
setting, kids are happy to get their hands dirty. Most important,
as any parent knows, a child will eat anything they help to grow
and prepare. In the process, they will set the healthy eating patterns
of a lifetime.
DOWN THE PATH
The Friendship Garden at Pacific Beach Elementary school is a
tiny dirt patch tucked into a remote corner of the huge asphalt
schoolyard. A not-very-scary scarecrow guards the whitewashed archway
between two raised beds. There are a couple of benches in the middle
of the dirt patch, and someone has painted and hung colorful wooden
butterflies on the high chain link fences surrounding the yard.
Earlier in the year, the boxes were planted with sunflowers and
herbs, pole beans and tomatoes, herbs and corn. A huge cotton bush
thrives in the heat and dust of this remote corner.
It’s a peaceful place, though located about as far away
as one can get from the door to the school cafeteria. Symbolic,
perhaps, of the changing relationship between old-style food service
and the new trend towards fresh and healthy.
Kim Schoettle is the school’s ‘garden mom.’ She
grew up in Indiana with a down-to-earth mother who taught her the
names and care of plants. She became interested in the school garden
when her first child started school four years ago A gardener herself,
Schoettle believes that merely exposing kids to the outdoors and
growing things has a beneficial effect.
“We want to help them develop a wonder and appreciation
of nature. We want more hands-on learning. We get science kits from
the district, but if the kids are out there learning hands-on and
experiencing the garden they learn much better.”
Parent docents lead groups of children into the garden to plant,
weed, harvest and taste, or just sit and enjoy. Schoettle has hosted
popular tastings of pizza herbs and Mexican herbs, and other events
designed to work with the school’s curriculum.
“We just want to expose kids to the outdoors, says Schoettle.
“We’ve had kids scared to death to hold an earthworm.
Some don’t even know how to put a plant in the ground. One
planted the whole pot.”
. Her ultimate goal is to find a place where the teachers can work
the garden into their teaching, using it for learning as well as
“Teachers are overwhelmed anyway,” she observes.
The PBE garden began in 1999 when a group of parents raised seed
money from local service groups and state agencies to build the
raised beds and install a low-water xeriscape garden by the north
entrance to the schoolyard. Five years later, Schoettle’s
wish list is long, and funds are short. The biggest problems are
funding and getting enough volunteer hours. She has a lengthy list
of needed equipment.
Schoettle envisions a much larger garden, close to the center
of the schoolyard with a stand of shade and fruit trees, four larger
beds, and picnic tables for outdoor classes: an oasis of greenery
and cool when heat shimmers off the school asphalt. That will take
fundraising, donations of time and equipment, and the school district’s
go-ahead. Schoettle isn’t fazed in the least.
She says,” Kids need to understand the origins of what they
eat and wear – the whole big picture of their environment.
The garden is the best place for them to learn this.”
GARDENS AND GOVERNMENTS
The California Department of Education passed a resolution in
1995 calling for every school in the state to have a garden. In
fact, governments at every level, from local to federal, have existing
programs to promote school gardens and farm-to-school links.
These multiple sources frequently have little or no communication
with each other, and schools and parents are left to flounder through
a bewildering thicket of ideas, options, guidelines and standards–
none of which actually offer funding to actually build a garden,
which can be expensive; Kim Schoettle estimates that her garden
cost around $2000 in 1999, and they have received no further grants.
The Pacific Beach Elementary garden, like all San Diego school
gardens, does not receive any official funding or maintenance assistance
from the school district. School gardens were created at Memorial
and Roosevelt Middle schools under a state LEAF grant (since expired)
but most schools create their gardens independently, relying on
donations and volunteer hours.
Janice Duvall, of the County Office of Education, suggests that
interested schools first study gardening basics. Her program, The
Green Machine, presents interactive workshops on composting, soil
building, friendly bugs, water conservation and sustainable gardening.
Her office works closely with the University of California Cooperative
extension Master Gardener program as well as the Farm Bureau and
Environmental Services. After the initial contacts, Duvall suggests
partnering with a teaching farm like Tierra Miguel.
Schoettle has worked with the Way To Grow! Program of the National
Gardening Association. California Ag in the Classroom and San Diego
Ag in the Classroom are other garden/farm programs designed to work
with the state curriculum.
INTRODUCING NEW TASTES
Some California school districts have gone out of their way to
embrace the use of school gardens. The Santa Monica Malibu School
District underwrites large gardens at each of its 14 elementary
schools. Garden products are actually harvested and served in the
school cafeteria, and small local farms are able to sell their produce
directly to the school food services division.
At the Santa Monica Farmers Market, children from district elementary
schools are led through a tasting of unusual foods and given guided
tours of the market, where they can mingle with famous chefs as
they buy for their restaurants. Registered dieticians from the County
of Los Angeles are on hand every week, providing information to
shoppers on nutritional programs such as the 5-a-Day program.
On a visit in May of this year, a group of second-graders from
a local school tasted pea shoots, artichokes, fingerling potatoes
and baby carrots while across the street, raw foods guru Juliano
cavorted in pink nylon with red-gold Rainier cherries hung over
his ears, serving raw food ‘tacos’ in red cabbage leaves.
This would be a hard act to follow anywhere, but it seems to be
particularly challenging in San Diego.
Creating such a direct link between local farms and city schools
would be next to impossible here, suggests Joanne Tucker, food services
marketing director for San Diego City Schools.
The sheer size of the project is overwhelming. SDCS supplies 130
elementary schools – nearly 10 times as many as Santa Monica.
San Diego County farmers, most of whom are small specialty farmers,
would find it difficult to produce the massive amounts needed by
the school district on a predictable and consistent basis. And schools
are not allowed to buy outside or run their own food services.
Also, says Tucker, “We have to pay our own way.” The
school district receives only 23 cents per student for free or low-income
meals, which form a high percentage of total students in San Diego.
To save money, San Diego City Schools purchases actual tons of heavily
subsidized ‘commodity’ foods. Help may be on the way:
the state Department of Agriculture is getting on the fresh food
bandwagon, with a program set to roll out which will put California
fruit and vegetables into California schools.
“The real goal, “Tucker says, “is getting kids
to try new foods.” If having a school garden or visiting a
farm makes kids more open-minded, the district is all for it.
“You can bring a kid to salad, but you can’t make them
eat,” she says. “We’re fighting a lot of bad habits.”
Tucker occasionally transforms herself into an apple or banana
(“Whatever I feel in tune with that day,” she deadpans,)
to lead an intrepid group of city schools employees dressed as fruits
and vegetables while they perform ‘The 5-A- Day Rap’
before delighted audiences at school functions and assemblies.
“After the rap,” says Tucker, “the fruits and
vegetables just sort of hang out with the kids and give them high
Their hope is to make eating good food seem both fun and desirable
– to make it as “cool” to eat an apple as it is
to eat junk food. The food services theme is, in fact, “It’s
cool to eat in school.”
In January 2003, San Diego City Schools introduced Kids Choice
Cafes: fresh salad bars five days a week to all 130 elementary schools.
Today, every elementary schoolchild can choose from 4 hot entrees,
then go to the Kid’s Choice salad bar for salad and fresh
toppings, which vary frequently and always include a seasonal ‘fruit
of the month’ such as blood oranges, watermelon or tangerines.
The Kids Choice Newsletter goes home with the menu for the month
and offers tips on healthy eating for the whole family.
“The whole idea is to get the kids involved in making those
healthy choices for themselves,” Tucker says. “When
kids can no longer get their flaming nachos at school, they simply
select something else. Maybe on the way home they’ll stop
and buy junk food, but at school they made a healthier choice.”
Convincing people to change for life takes more than dancing vegetables,
classroom lectures and government press releases. Lasting change
demands buy-in on an emotional level (one might say a gut level.)
After all, it’s not what you do some of the time that matters—it’s
what you do most of the time.
Parents know that it’s probably easier to grow a garden with
cockleshells and silver bells than it is to get kids to eat food
that’s good for them. Educators, nutritionists and parents
are finding that one of the most effective ways to teach healthy
eating habits is getting kids (and parents) literally back in touch
with real food.
In the end, there’s a good argument that people who teach
and people who grow things have a lot in common. The farmer who
plants a vineyard or an olive tree, who teaches the skill of growing,
gives an unconditional gift to future generations. The teacher may
plant ideas in students, or instill a passion that blossoms years
later. It’s sowing the future for more than just food.
THE FARM CONNECTION
The road to Tierra Miguel farm winds from the I-15 at Fallbrook
up a steep and stony valley, past historic Gomez Creek and Warner
Ranch, past the starkly anachronistic mega-story Pala casino, and
finally into the Pauma Valley at the foot of Mount Palomar.
Bison and horses lounge by white board fences. A hand-lettered
sign nailed to a fence offers lessons in tango argentine. Oranges
glow like Chinese lanterns among the green leaves of countless trees
behind white board fences. For most of Tierra Miguel’s student
visitors, this countryside is a world away from their neighborhoods
Hats are de rigueur today: all kinds of hats. Wide-brimmed straw
lifeguard hats, canvas slouch hats and those Lawrence of Arabia-style
caps with neck flaps that mothers pick out and children hate. It’s
barely 10 am and already over 90 degrees, and though there isn’t
a breath of air or a cloud in the sky, the rocky hills are vibrantly
flushed with leafy scrub, and the 86 acres of Tierra Miguel farm
stretch out on all sides in a haze of a hundred shades of green.
It’s spring, and there’s plenty of work to do.
Past the nascent orchard or peaches and apricots, not far from
the farm trailer, second and third graders from the Waldorf School
of San Diego are lined up on either side of a long heaped row of
earth, planting spindly young plants. The children carefully settle
each wobbling stem into holes, then scoop and pack the earth around
the pots. The earth is dark and crumbly moist beneath the dry powdery
surface. The students have dirt up to their elbows, streaking their
faces with sweat and sunscreen. Several mothers hover, applying
“These are sunchokes,” farm teacher Robert Farmer
says to the children working beside him. He is wearing shorts, sturdy
boots, a wide-brimmed hat and a thin layer of grey dust. “These
are a special kind of plant that nobody else has. It has a kind
of carbohydrate that diabetics can use. They’re very special.”
The kids nod, showing varying degrees of interest. It’s hot,
and some people are fooling around and talking instead of working.
Farmer lines the class up to help stretch a long line of black drip
irrigation tape. He patiently coaches them through the steps of
straightening, turning, and sealing off the drip line, then hands
out an array of fierce-looking rakes, hoes and shovels.
Immediately there’s some non-specific, vigorous shoveling
in one area, but the kids set to work grooming the sides of the
rows. The Waldorf School has its own garden, so most have some inkling
of what they’re doing, though Tierra Miguel shows it to them
on a much larger scale.
Farmer supervises the grooming, packing a little more earth here
and there, coaching a child on the use of a cultivator while working
himself with quick, efficient motions.
“I like them to get their hands on everything, and really
feel what they’re doing,” he explains. He points to
the young fruit trees behind him. “When Roosevelt school came
out, they pruned the orchard. Now the trees are leafed out and making
fruit. It would be great if they can come back and see the results.”
Tierra Miguel hosts about two dozen schools a year on day outings
like this, where elementary and middle school kids can spend a day
or two learning about composting, planting, watering and harvesting.
The certified organic teaching farm also offers internships to post-graduate
agriculture students from around the world. The not-for-profit foundation
offers programs in organic, biodynamic and sustainable gardening
The farm supports itself through various grants, donations and
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA,) which is a kind of seasonal
produce timeshare in which members pay a fee and receive a weekly
box of fresh-from-the-farm produce.
Farmer (his real name) is Educational Program Director. His vision
is to create an integrated learning cycle linking farm visits, school
garden development and learning, and hands-on culinary technique-
a program he calls FACTS: Farmers And Chefs, Teachers and Students.
He worked with Memorial and Roosevelt middle schools to create school
gardens as part of the state LEAF grant.
He’s upbeat about how farms and schools can work together.
“This program can be very enriching, and support the classroom
in a positive way, while teaching these kids some real life basics
in a hands-on way.” He turns again to the very hands-on students,
who are almost finished planting.
Soon the sunchoke plants are tucked into surprisingly neat, even
rows, and the drip tape is delivering water. Farmer calls the group
to the end of the row for a lesson in farm math.
He tips up a wheelbarrow of compost and moves it one side. “We
planted about 100 sunchokes today,” he says. “Each of
these plants is grown from one tuber, and every one of these plants
you put in the ground today will make about 10 new tubers. So when
we harvest, how many new plants can we make?”
Hands shoot up. “1000 plants,” says one.
“That’s a lot!” someone says.
Farmer continues. “And when we plant the 1000 new tubers,
and they each make 10 tubers, how many plants will we be able to
“100,000!” a boy calls out and his friends roll their
eyes. “Ten thousand,” says a blond child in a straw
Everyone is suitably impressed by their morning’s work.
Farmer says, “Before it gets too hot, let’s go pick
our strawberries. After snack we’re going to plant the Three
Sisters (Native American style mound plantings of corn, beans and
squash) and then we’ll visit the goats. Now-let’s put
our rakes back in the pile over here. And remember, always put the
Even one generation ago, most of these children would have known
to set a rake with points down, Today, things are different.
“We had a school out last week, and most of those kids had
never been on a farm before,” Farmer says, as he leads the
way to the strawberry fields. “They had grown one huge carrot
in their school garden, as long as my forearm, and they all had
their pictures taken with it.”
A girl, overhearing, pipes up to no one in particular. “How
come we can’t harvest carrots like yesterday?”
Her friend gives her a playful shove. “Because they aren’t
“But they were soooo good.”
There’s a lazy drone from planes taking off and landing
at the small airfield nearby as the group trudges up the dusty road
to the strawberry fields. The air is alive with bugs and birdsongs.
White butterflies flutter and fall over a field of dark green cabbages.
The strawberry field is full of bees, working the tiny white flowers,
undisturbed by the children. The students fan out, each with a stack
of clear plastic clamshells to fill.
“Remember to pick the dark red ones, and look at it before
you pick it to make sure it doesn’t have any white spots or
brown spots,” Farmer calls out. The children are serious and
careful, lifting the thick green leaves to reveal the red fruit
below, examining each berry before picking it and adding it to their
collection. It’s like a relaxed, quiet Easter egg hunt.
“Ms. Austin!” urgently calls a boy, who crouches bareheaded
under the merciless sun. Heide Austin, the Waldorf teacher, hurries
“Look, there’s a whole family here of strawberries,
big ones and little ones. And this one’s the grandfather.
He’s all shriveled up.”
When the clamshells are full, Farmer writes each child’s
name on his or her boxes with a felt-tip pen.
“What’s your name?” a boy asks Farmer.
“Mr. Farmer,” Farmer replies.
The boy shakes his head. “I mean your real name,”
Farmer smiles. “That is my name.”
But now the students have discovered a trap with a dead ground
squirrel up the road, and the strawberries – and Farmer’s
real identity—are forgotten. The stiff grey body dangles at
the end of the chain as the bravest of the boys swings it around.
“Drop it,” says Ms. Austin. Exploration of nature only
goes so far, even at a Waldorf School.
THE WALDORF SCHOOL
The Waldorf School is located in one of San Diego’s grittier
areas. The neighbors keep large dogs, and most houses have bars
on their windows. But at the pink-painted school, beds of bright
flowers and scented herbs greet visitors and fill the corners of
the parking lot and offices. Outside Morning Glory Room, where the
preschoolers and parents gather, there’s a luscious smell
of cooking applesauce and ripe bananas. Hand-knit objects are everywhere,
and one suspects that there are more than the usual numbers of Birkenstocks
in the area.
By the school garden, six glossy chickens, one with a magnificent
pompadour, strut with the confidence known by only by animals that
spend their days at a vegetarian facility.
The educational philosophy of Waldorf schools is based on hands-on
learning, and incorporates a holistic approach to gardening and
food in its curriculum. There is no cafeteria; Waldorf students
cook their own lunch every day in the primary grades, beginning
with preschool, and the upper grades bring lunch from home in a
The school garden is more than just a part-time project. It’s
the heart of the second and third grade curriculum, which puts the
emphasis on practical living, farming and building. The chickens
are the wards of this class. The school garden is their responsibility.
They will learn to shear wool and card, spin and weave it; they
all already know how to knit and crochet. There’s a small
model of an adobe house, and the students will make adobe bricks
and learn the basic principles of building. They will spend time
at Tierra Miguel, learning how a farm works.
Outside by the their garden, the class is practicing their end-of-year
“Mother Earth, Father Sun,” they sing. “Sister
Rain, Brother Wind, ” as the dreaming ‘seeds’
on stage pretend to transform themselves into beautiful blossoms.
A tall boy unfolds himself, and steps forward. “I,”
he proclaims proudly,” am a pussy willow.” His classmates
introduce themselves variously as other plants and flowers, then
break into a rousing game of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
Back in their classroom, teacher Heide Austin leads them through
drawing exercises about seeds and the cycle of growth. The room
is full of plant and farm references: pine cones, hand-woven baskets,
seeds, birds’ nests and a print of The Gleaners. There’s
a sense of respect, almost of veneration, of nature.
During these two years, the students each make a garden book and
a cookbook while learning about the farm cycle of preparation, planting,
growing, weeding and harvesting. Their garden books are large and
colorful, decorated with sprawling vines and flowers. In multi-colored
writing are carefully drawn garden plans and a long paragraph of
earthworm facts and habits.
Other pages demonstrate how to make compost and mix sand and clay
to make soil, plus this note: “On December 9th 03 we seeded
the bed and on February 5 we harvested butter lettuce, green leaf
lettuce, spinach, kale, beet leaves, mustart (sic) leaves and one
big white radish.”
There are simple rhymes and more drawings.
Four seeds in a hole /
One for the rook, one for the crow/
And one to rot
And one to grow.
“The chickens ate all our plants,” a student reminisces
back in the classroom. “That was before the water went away
and everything died. But most everything was harvested.”
“It was fun spraying the bugs,” a boy reminisces.
“Are anybody’s earthworms still alive?” a girl
“Mine are,” says a curly-haired girl. “The ones
in my grandma’s garden are still alive.”
Ms Austin asks, “Who remembers how many earthworms it takes
to make an acre of earth fertile?”
Everyone knows the answer—it takes one million. They are
completely comfortable with the concepts of growing and recycling,
watering and harvesting, of necessary loss and the cycle of life.
Out at the garden, the chickens have escaped their coop and are
pecking at bugs on the ground. A third-grader shows off three heaps
of compost, describing how the quality of the compost changes with
age. The garden itself is done for the year, but plans are afoot
for next season’s planting.
“We’ll have a better garden next year because our
compost will be better,” she observes. She sprays a trail
of red ants with cayenne spray (the Waldorf garden is, of course,
organic). while efficiently herding the chickens out of the garden
and back into their coop with one sneakered foot.
A younger child runs to show a freshly laid egg, discovered out
on the playground while the hens enjoyed their brief moments of
freedom. The egg is translucent and still warm. She cradles it gently
in both hands, beaming.
WHAT SCHOOLS ARE DOING ABOUT CHILDREN’S HEALTH
Chew on these facts:
- Only 2% of children in the USA eat a diet that meets all the
recommendations of the USDA food Pyramid.
- Less than 20% eat the recommended servings of vegetables, and
less than 15% get the right amount of fruit.
- In the nation, 1 in 5 children is overweight. Childhood obesity
has increased by more than 50% since 1984.
- According to the Center for Disease Control, one-third of all
children in the US will become diabetic unless “serious
changes are made to their eating habits.”
- In California, two-thirds of all deaths result from four chronic
diseases: diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
- Between 1966 and 2000, the prevalence of overweight among children
12 to 19 has tripled.
This is an epidemic, and California schools are acting.
Passed in 2001, SB-19 (officially known as The Pupil Health and
Achievement Act) sets limits on, or eliminates, on-campus sales
of sodas, candy, high-fat and sugary foods, replacing them with
baked, low sugar items, sports beverages, and water, thus ending
the contentious programs that put soda machines on school campuses.
It also increased the reimbursement to schools for free and low-cost
meals from 13 cents to a whopping 23 cents.
According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy,
“There is virtually unanimous agreement that one of the most
effective ways to prevent chronic diseases is to establish policies
that encourage children and adolescents to develop healthy eating
and exercise habits they can maintain throughout their lives.”
With this in mind, SB-19 created a series of grants known as LEAF
(Linking Education, Activity and Food.) Two San Diego middle schools
participated: Roosevelt and Memorial. . A commitment was made by
both schools to create an environment where a healthy lifestyle
was encouraged, taught and made accessible.
The purpose of the grants was to see if school food services could
survive fiscally if they changed their approach to food.
Salad bars were installed. Juice, milk and water were offered,
and sodas eliminated, as were fried and high-fat foods. Chips and
candy were removed from ala carte sale and replaced with baked and
healthier alternatives. School wide nutritional education was incorporated,
in the form of the Eat Fit curriculum by the Cooperative Extension.
Physical activities and sports programs were added before and after
school. School gardens were created with the help of Tierra Miguel
Foundation, and students from both school visited Tierra Miguel.
The results? According to Brenda Reynosa, fruit and vegetable
consumption increased between 19% and 24%, possibly more. Juice
consumption increased by a whopping 24% to 42%. The less easily
measured effects will have to wait to be seen.
While every San Diego elementary school has its own fresh salad
bar, making the jump to secondary school will be far more costly,
since nearly every school will need new equipment and kitchen redesign
in order to serve more healthy foods. The district has applied for
further grants, a waiting game.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on children’s health.
“One other aspect of this issue,” points out Reynoso,
“Is the ‘portion distortion’ that has occurred
in America – people believing that super-sized portions are
“I often have principals, parents, students tell me the
portions are too small when in fact they are the normal portions
that Americans should be eating. Is it any wonder we’re overweight/obese?”
I treasure my 1946 edition of A Cookbook for Girls and Boys by
Irma S. Rombauer, who was also the brains behind Joy of Cooking.
For a children’s cookbook, it was very sophisticated, with
recipes quite as challenging as a good many of today’s adult
cookbooks (not a ‘funny face’ sandwich or pizza in the
whole book.) I like how the recipes are written, with the steps
and ingredients in sequence. Kids will enjoy making and eating this
simple, delicious homemade jelly, and be thankful it isn’t
a nice Prune Whip.
Place in a bowl:
¼ cup cold water
1 ½ tablespoons (4 teaspoons) unflavored Knox gelatine powder
Combine in a saucepan, stir, then boil for 3 minutes:
½ cup water
¾ cup sugar
Pour the hot syrup over the soaked gelatin, stirring well with
a spoon to dissolve the gelatin. Cool the mixture.
Combine in a bowl, then add to the cooled mixture:
¾ cup fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
¼ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pour the jelly into a mold that has been rinsed with cold water.
Chill it in the refrigerator. Unmold it onto a plate.
From: A Cookbook for Boys and Girls, by Irma S. Rombauer
FRESH FRUIT MUFFINS
Food plays a big part in a Waldorf education. Preschool, kindergarten
and first grade prepare their own lunch every day. Second and third
graders make a personal cookbook, carefully copied and embellished,
and they are expected to cook the recipes at home. This one was
rated “pretty good” by the students.
2 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1 1/3 cups melted butter
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 cup raspberries or other berries, tossed with a little bit of
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix dry and wet ingredients separately in two bowls.
Combine both bowls. Add raspberries.
Stir batter with rubber spatula
Spoon batter into lined muffin tines
Bake for 25 minutes.
From the Waldorf School of San Diego
After learning about the importance of corn to early Americans,
and planting the ‘Three Sisters’ at Tierra Miguel, Waldorf
students copied this recipe into their personal cookbooks and drew
beautiful pictures of corn on the page.
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup sugar
2 cups milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix dry ingredients.
Add milk, then eggs to dry ingredients.
Melt the butter in a 9” by 13” pan
Add melted butter to the batter and stir.
Pour batter into pan
Bake in heated oven for 30 minutes.
From the Waldorf School of San Diego
Garden Connections On-Line