No. 751

In your mind, visualize a middle school in your community and sitting on one side of the campus is a “greenhouse” and a garden area where plants and vegetables are being grown by students. The goal of this project is to attract students who aren’t involved in other school activities, such as athletics or clubs, to become involved in their schools and to be more physically active.
Those who have set up this program believe that working in the gardens will entice these students to move more, to consume more fresh fruits and vegetables, and that it will also connect them with other kids and faculty through a common interest. Students who are already involved and active will become even more bonded with their schools and peers.
What a fantastic “Green Thumb” idea. We all have to eat, right? Over the past several decades, U.S. schools have spent billions of dollars on education and, in many cases, we are not getting our money’s worth. We still rank far behind most industrialized countries in test scores for reading, math and science. So, why not invest a little of this money to develop a program that is practical, uses common sense and meets a real need that will encourage and motivate many students who are not part of the “in” crowd when it comes to school activities.
But I am getting a little ahead of myself. Each week I receive a number of press releases that tout one cause or another, one product or another. Occasionally I receive one that really rings my bell. Such was the case recently when I received a release from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. It gave the details for a $1.8 million fund to build one-acre gardens at Delta middle schools. Some previous studies have demonstrated the benefits of exposing elementary school students to better nutritional habits through small-scale gardening projects. Few have documented how older students – ages 11 to 14 – can adopt lifestyle changes through larger-scale, science-based gardening programs.
This project is a joint venture between the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) and the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit. The ACHRI will build seven one-acre gardens worth $17,000 each on the properties of seven schools who apply to participate. The researchers will also create a curriculum drawing on existing state educational frameworks so that students can use the gardens at least twice each week in their regular schoolwork. A full-time garden manager will be hired for each school. One of the seven schools will participate as the pilot site. That school’s students and teachers will evaluate all of the program components prior to the start of the full-scale study to determine if modifications are necessary.
While this idea is still in its infancy, I can see all kinds of benefits for students, parents and for our society. When it’s up and running, as previously stated, students involved in the program will be encouraged to eat more fruits and vegetables, while getting more exercise, and the food items that are grown can be used in the school’s cafeteria. Remember, this garden will also have a greenhouse and thereby increase the number of school days when it can be in use.
Obviously, there are tons of details that I don’t have space to tell you about, but I wanted to give you the concept to think about. While this grant only applies to schools in Arkansas, it will work anywhere in the nation. If you have a green thumb, you know, with proper supervision, this is an idea that will work. Visit their Web site:
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To begin a bookcase literacy project visit You won’t go wrong helping a needy child.)