Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contacts: Angie Gutierrez, 210-631-0400, email@example.com
Ruby Zavala, 210-631-0400, firstname.lastname@example.org
SAN ANTONIO – The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Bexar County, along with Bexar County Master Gardeners and other volunteers, recently kicked off their 10-week Learn, Grow, Eat and Go program at Loma Park Elementary in San Antonio.
More than 100 third-grade students from six classes participated in the program, which has a curriculum focused on nutrition, gardening and physical activity. The program is being implemented with the collaboration of the school and the Edgewood Independent School District.
“Our kickoff demonstrated a nutrition component, which included having the students do a taste test of raw vegetables, followed by a recipe demonstration on how to make a nutritious snack with fresh vegetables,” said Angie Gutierrez, AgriLife Extension family and community health agent, Bexar County. “The second portion was having the kids put soil into the raised-bed gardens we built on the school campus and then planting vegetables, herbs and ornamentals.”
Gutierrez said during the program students will receive a nutrition kit containing recipes as well as food preparation items such as measuring cups and utensils. They also receive a Junior Master Gardener kit with more recipes and nutritional information to share with their families. Students also receive fun-to-use exercise equipment.
Ruby Zavala, AgriLife Extension youth gardens coordinator for Bexar County, said the program attempts to encourage better eating behaviors and inspire more physical activity among young people as a means to help address health issues such as obesity and diabetes.
“The program is a project of the International Junior Master Gardener Program,” Zavala said. “It’s a hands-on program that involves youth in planting, growing and harvesting their own vegetables, learning about nutrition, then using the vegetables they grow and harvest to prepare nutritious recipes they can share with their families.”
She said a cornerstone of the program is to establish a garden area at each participating school. Students are provided potting soil, garden implements and seedlings for planting.
“Along with our Bexar County Master Gardeners volunteers, we built two 4-by-8 foot raised-bed gardens at the Loma Park,” Zavala said. “The students filled them with soil, then fertilized and prepared the soil and planted tomatoes, onions, potatoes, cucumber, Swiss chard and various herbs and ornamentals.”
School principal Wendy Salazar said she appreciated the hands-on, interactive aspects of the program.
“Children learn better when they’re engaged in doing some sort of activity,” she said. “This program is something they can do at school and also share with their parents. They will take home the vegetables they harvest and can make recipes with them. Kids like to try new things and this gives them an opportunity to do that.”
Ademar Hernandez, a third-grade teacher at the kickoff, said the timing for the program was ideal as his students had just begun to study ecosystem science.
“This provides a real hands-on experience of nature and how plants grow,” he said. “It makes a great supplement to what they are learning in the classroom. And even though they don’t take the state-mandated testing until fifth grade, it gives them a good introduction to the subject matter.”
David Ortiz, a physical education instructor at the school, said he appreciated the nutrition and physical activity aspects of the program.
“It’s good to see the kids outside and doing something with their hands,” he said. “The gardening provides an outside activity for them and even helps with their hand-eye coordination. And the nutrition part shows them the importance of eating their fruits and vegetables.”
Salazar said planting and maintaining the garden will also help teach students responsibility and teamwork.
“They will have to water and weed the garden and then harvest the vegetables when they’re ready,” she said. “And they will need to work together to make sure the garden is well tended.”
Art Vasquez, a Bexar County Master Gardener and certified Junior Master Gardener, was one of the volunteers helping with the garden planting.
“This is all about the kids,” he said. “For many of them, this is probably the first time they’ve actually seen and gotten to work in a garden. It’s a unique experience for them and something they can enjoy and learn from.”
The Learn, Go, Eat and Grow program has been implemented at Loma Park, Las Palmas and Perales elementary schools in Edgewood ISD. In other Bexar County school districts, the program has been implemented at V.W. Adams, Columbia Heights, DeZavala, John Glenn, Graebner, Harmony, Jim Martin, Rayburn, H.W. Schulze and Woodlawn Academy elementary schools – all located in low-income communities of the greater San Antonio area.