Napa students get to work — in the garden

As part of the science curriculum and to promote healthy eating habits, Redwood Middle School students are replanting the school garden. Experts report that such efforts may have implications for childhood obesity.

Jennifer Huffman, Register

Parents who have a hard time getting their kids to do weeding or yard work at home will be pleasantly surprised to see how a group of students at Redwood Middle School get on with part of their year.

Beginning with building garden beds, weeding out old growth, and adding compost, these middle school students learn about healthy foods firsthand.

There are several ways to learn about nutrition in a garden, said Karen Fleming, a special assignment environmental science teacher and garden coordinator at the Napa Valley Unified School District.

“The first thing is to learn about plants,” Fleming said. “Building knowledge about how to grow seasonal, healthy fruits and vegetables and understanding how healthy soil grows into healthier crops is just the beginning,” she said.

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“The students then learn how the needs of plants relate to science lessons. The students are also active in the garden, whether chasing the caterpillars that eat the tomatoes, weeding, digging with shovels or balancing wheelbarrows.”

Audrey Schallon, a seventh grader at Redwood, said she was excited to be gardening.

“Just be outside; it is different from the other classes.”

She can see a link between growing food, eating healthily and reducing childhood obesity, Audrey said.

“I think someone who works in a garden, even on this scale, which isn’t very big, would definitely be more encouraged to eat healthily and not eat as much junk food.”

The week before, the students took part in a tomato taste test, tasting a variety of tomatoes of different colors and shapes. The tomatoes were all grown in NVUSD gardens.

Though she doesn’t like tomatoes, Audrey said she tried them anyway. Your taste buds can change, she said, “and you may end up liking something you didn’t like before.”

For Marina Holman, also in seventh grade, the tomato taste test was “delicious.”

“There were quite a few varieties that I had never tried. Some were cute. Some were a little bitter. But I found it really interesting to see all the different species and see what they looked like.” Planting and working outside “is going to be fun,” Marina said. She gets most excited about planting and tasting the foods they grow, the student said.

Redwood Middle School principal Peter Hartnack said the school garden helps children understand that “food is a natural product that comes from somewhere” and doesn’t magically show up in a cafeteria or in a bag. “It has roots”

Childhood obesity: a growing problem in Napa County and California

Childhood obesity is a growing problem in both Napa County and California. The pandemic has made it worse.

“Another part of that is exposing them to what fresh food has to offer (or food that they might not otherwise have access to),” the principal said.

“There will never be anything to say ‘this will solve childhood obesity’ but give them the tools to have conversations with themselves, their peers and their families,” is part of the solution.

Emme Warner, an eighth grader, said she likes everything about the middle school garden.

“I like growing things, and I have a lot of friends in this class and they’re fun to talk about.” Eating the end product “is pretty fun, too.”

Emme can see how the pandemic has affected childhood obesity rates. She was “certainly” less active during the remote learning portion of the pandemic.

“I play softball and I haven’t been able to do that during the pandemic, which made me feel really weird,” she said. At the same time, “I might have eaten a lot more junk food than I normally would.”

“It’s good that we’re doing this,” said Trinity Williamson, a seventh grade student. “The world is becoming unhealthier,” she said.

Trinity admitted she was known to be a picky eater. “I used to refuse to eat spinach and broccoli. I still don’t like it, but I’ll eat it” to be healthy.

Gardening and watching the plants grow “is amazing,” said Connor Walters, a seventh grader. “My heart will rejoice when it comes to life.”

Redwood Middle School teacher Helen Holman-Williams said students had many conversations “about the connection between healthy eating and where our food comes from.”

“We will definitely be focusing on how you bring health, wellness and awareness from the garden to the classroom and to the wider community.”

You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 707-256-2218 or [email protected]

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