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Students and teachers working in the new gardens at Glen Oak Intermediate School

FAIRFIELD, Ala. – School children in Jefferson County are learning to eat better through the world of gardening.

Desiree Hutcherson-Bates, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System regional agent, recently worked with several community partnerships to help students at Glen Oaks Intermediate School learn about fresh fruits and vegetables through a new school garden. Hutcherson-Bates works with Alabama Extension at Auburn University’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program–Education (SNAP-Ed). The program uses a complementary and multitiered approach to create healthy food environments for limited-resource communities.

SNAP-Ed partnered with Fairfield City Schools, Jones Valley Teaching Farm, Better Basics and the Full Plate Project to implement nine raised bed gardens for students to plant fruits and vegetables. Lowe’s donated seeds and The Home Depot donated paint for the beds. Hutcherson-Bates wanted to make connections with community partners that have similar passions for helping create healthy food environments in schools.

“I knew working with partners that share a love for gardening and educating young minds would be the key to making this work,” Hutcherson-Bates said.

Grant Funded

A Jones Valley Teaching Farm grant made the raised beds possible. Hutcherson-Bates said grant writers visited the land and determined that the school could sustain the garden. A total of 12 schools were considered for grants. Shirley Cotton, a grant writer from Jones Valley Teaching Farm, ended up selecting Glen Oak Intermediate School and two other schools to receive the funds.

“I thought this school (Glen Oak Intermediate) would be an excellent place for the grant,” Cotton said. “We want children to eat better and we want them to love gardening.”

Students Lend a Helping Hand

During the school year, Hutcherson-Bates provided lessons to her Body Quest students about the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Body Quest is an innovative childhood obesity prevention initiative that empowers third graders and their parents to make healthier choices. She actively participated in educating students about sustaining a community garden during its implementation.

Hutcherson-Bates said the third grade students and their teachers will maintain the garden. She said each classroom will come up with a sustainability plan where each student has a role in the garden.

“They are going to learn so much from seeing their own fruits and vegetables grow,” Hutcherson-Bates said. “I think if they see the whole process, they will be more likely to taste it.”

Additionally, local Boy Scouts of America Troop 3062 will mow the grass and have a role in watering the plants.

Reinforcement From Classroom

Hutcherson-Bates said the lessons taught in the garden reinforce what is being taught in the classroom through Body Quest. She said gardens offer students the opportunity to see food outside of a grocery store.

“These kids normally just see fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, and they typically don’t see gardens at their homes,” Hutcherson-Bates said. “As an educator, we hope that if they see the garden, that’ll encourage them to want to learn more about how fruits and vegetables grow, how they taste and will be more engaged in the classroom.”

Gina Waldrop is a partner with the Better Basics program through the 21st Century Community Learning Center in Fairfield, Alabama. The after-school program regularly has a gardener talk to students about healthy eating using fresh fruits and vegetables. Waldrop said her organization was able to help fund part of the raised bed project and allow students in the program to water and plant seeds. She said Better Basics wants to continue to build a better partnership with SNAP-Ed and Fairfield City Schools.

“A garden is a very important component of a child’s education, especially for children of color,” Waldrop said. “Because of the health issues that we have, the earlier children can start eating healthy, the longer life they may have.”

Looking to the Future

Regina Thompson, superintendent of Fairfield City Schools, praised Hutcherson-Bates for her work with students at Glen Oaks Intermediate School.

“The way that she works with the children is so important,” Thompson said. “She values that they are our future and that it doesn’t stop with her.”

Thompson said providing healthy school environments could have an impact on the students for the rest of their lives.

“They are going to learn about healthy eating,” Thompson said. “A lot of times, obesity starts at an early age. So, they will begin to learn where fruits and vegetables come from, and they’ll appreciate it more.”

More Information

For more information about this garden project, contact Hutcherson-Bates at dlh0020@aces.edu. To learn more about SNAP-Ed’s work with community gardens, visit www.LiveWellAlabama.com or visit Live Well Alabama on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.