By Claire Roess, Dietetic Intern, Summer 2016
While hospital-based farms provide healthy and tasty produce for inpatient food trays, they also offer a whole lot more than that. They allow hospital staff members to rent plots and grow their own vegetables, they engage with the community and serve as local places to volunteer, and they form partnerships with neighborhood organizations. Speaking of partnerships, one of the most important roles of these farms is to educate children attending nearby schools.
The Farm at St. Joe’s values such education and aims to “foster joy and discovery through inquiry and exploration of the natural world and food.” Every year, third and fifth graders from Ypsilanti Community Schools come to the farm to learn about how food is grown. Third graders explore the different parts of the plant, and they do interactive activities to understand the differences between soil and dirt and how plants go from seed to compost. Also, they receive a nutrition lesson focused on food advertising and label reading. Additionally, the kids make many observations outside on the farm and predict what will happen in the future. Fifth graders talk about how farming is a science, as it is based on data collection and informed decision-making. They also learn about the life cycle of calcium and do a hands-on activity to model photosynthesis. Furthermore, these students learn about the nutrients in different colored foods and what the nutrients do for the body. They also compare food items in terms of making healthy choices. Both age groups pick and eat a healthy snack during their time at the Farm.
While all of this sounds beneficial, is there any evidence to support experimental garden- or farm-based education? There is, in fact! Several studies show that hands-on interactive activities support children’s development, and hands-on garden activities teach children life skills that allow them to contribute to their local communities. Also, providing education in combination with practical learning resulted in children consuming more fruits and vegetables than if the children only received education and did no hands-on activities. Due to eating more fruits and vegetables, the children also ate more fiber, vitamin A, and vitamin C, contributing to overall healthier eating behaviors. Children became more excited about farming and eating produce when they were able to see firsthand how the food was grown. Therefore, these studies suggest that by supporting hands-on learning, the Farm at St. Joe’s is also helping children eat healthier.
Want to schedule a school trip to the Farm? Please contact Amanda Sweetman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-712-HOOP (4667). We’d love to show you what the Farm is all about!
Claire Roess, MPH, is a Dietetic Intern from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. She completed a two-week rotation at the Farm, learning about planting, harvesting, volunteer coordination, and using farming to educate both children and adults. She is excited to incorporate what she learned into her practice as a dietitian!