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School Gardens – What’s Nutrition Got To Do With It?

Greetings everyone – my name is Meghan and I’m an intern student from the Masters of Health Science in Nutrition Communication program at Ryerson University (whew, that’s a mouthful!). I’ve been asked to write a blog entry from the perspective of someone who focuses on the vital role that GTGK plays in child (or anybody’s!) nutrition. I’m really excited to be sharing this with you today!

I have to be honest that I’ve encountered a few looks of confusion when I mention where I’m doing my practicum placement. “Gardening? Really? But what does gardening have to do with nutrition?” has been the prevailing response from friends and family. In short, the answer to this question is, in fact, “Quite a lot!” The obvious connection between gardening and nutrition is the involvement of food. While my expertise lies predominantly in the consumption of food, I have come to GTGK with an interest in learning about what happens to food before we even consider eating it. In a society where we rely on the grocery store rather than the garden for the provision of our food, our connection to what we eat is being lost. In the minds of many, nutrition begins when we purchase our food and ends when we put our forks down. In actuality, nutrition needs to be viewed as a cycle that is beyond putting food in our mouths; it’s a cycle that starts with growing a seed and includes the subsequent cultivation, consumption, and sustainable disposal of the remainders through composting.

I should probably also acknowledge the other, less-than-flattering reaction I get when I tell people about my internship. “But Meghan,” my friends gently inquire, “You don’t have any idea how to garden, do you?” This, I must admit, is the unfortunate truth. When I was about six years old, my mother helped me to plant a small garden in my backyard that contained green beans and cherry tomatoes. This was last time I can remember doing any sort of gardening. Among my peers, this is not uncommon. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of my friends who would describe their gardening experience as anything beyond minimal. This is where an obvious gap lies between children of today and those of previous (healthier?) generations. This, I believe, is where Green Thumbs Growing Kids has the incredible potential to bring gardening back to the life of a child and thereby influence nutritional preferences, choices, and eventual consumption. My six-year-old self ate green beans and cherry tomatoes at every opportunity during that summer I was responsible for my small plot of land that contained them. Today, these vegetables remain some of my very favourites. Coincidence? I think not.

The key here is both exposure and the creation of a connection between a child and the food that they eat. Scientific studies support this, too: providing repeated opportunities to try a variety of fruits and vegetables almost always results in children with a palate for these foods that we assume they don’t like. Most convincing is what I’ve seen in so far during my placement. Students entering the garden will (literally) run to their favourite plants to get a taste. They will often share these favourites with their friends and will curiously investigate other plants in hopes they might find something good to eat. These are the best kinds of observations for someone planning a career in nutrition; in class we often learn about the deteriorating health of today’s society due to poor nutrition, particularly in child populations. Being in the garden, however, allows me to see that we really do have the ability to teach kids about natural, nutritious foods. Green Thumbs Growing Kids’ vision for “a garden in every school” is a very real solution.

Spread the word – together, we can make this happen!

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