Lovage is an herb. It can grow 6 feet tall, at least. When it does, someone has to cut down its collapsed stems in late-fall. This year in the Mariposa Academy school garden, that someone was Pamela Van Hoozer, a certified master gardener volunteer with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She had help, though.
Alejandro, a 5-year-old prekindergarten student was her garden shadow that day. She put him to work. They talked about lovage as they labored. They built finger claws and swords out of the herb’s trimmings.
Ask Alejandro what his garden-born toys are made from and he will answer, “Love.”
He is not wrong. The school garden is a labor of love for Mariposa and Cooperative Extension staff and volunteers.
The garden is supported by a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, or SNAP-Ed, grant-funded program called Grow Yourself Healthy.
Organizers of the program hope to instill lifelong healthful eating and increased physical activity habits to reduce obesity and prevent chronic disease.
These healthy habits, while good for everyone, are especially important for children who attend Mariposa Academy. This is because they tend to have an increased risk of obesity and chronic disease due to their low-income status and ethnicity.
To measure the program’s success, data are collected.
Some of the data tracks volunteer hours. Volunteers Pamela Van Hoozer and Beth Heggeness each work two to five hours per week in the garden.
Information about the garden itself is also gathered. Before and after photos of the growing area show how the school garden blossoms each year.
Student data are harvested as well.
This fall, more than 30 kindergarten students attended a half-hour lesson in the garden. The little ones explored its grounds. Nearly 30 first-grade students enjoyed the garden as well. They spent two 45 minute lessons learning about plant parts.
In second grade, there are 25 children. They spent two thirty-minute lessons learning about the lifecycles of plants and what plants need to survive.
In third grade, there are nearly 30 students. They spent two thirty-minute lessons in the garden learning where food comes from. More than 40 fourth- and fifth-graders had lessons in the garden as well. They spent seven hours there.
Each garden lesson includes nutrition, gardening and tasting elements. All students explore the grounds and sample its produce.
The student data program staff cultivate show that not only did the school garden grow, student minds did as well.
After participating in the garden this year, nearly 80 percent of students could correctly identify all five food groups. All were able to list two health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. The children’s fruit and vegetable consumption increased as did their willingness to try new fruits and veggies.
Over 90 percent could list two types of active play they enjoyed.
This means the Mariposa Academy school garden functions as a classroom, helping children learn to eat healthy and move more.
Because the program links nutrition and horticulture to education standards, the garden classroom also helps children learn math, science and reading while they learn to eat well and exercise.