Beyond academics, the garden provides broader life lessons including contributing to students’ knowledge of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The state of California is experiencing a major health crisis as the number of overweight and obese youth is growing at an epidemic rate. Approximately one in three children is overweight or at risk of being overweight, and almost 40 percent of school-aged children are considered unfit. The number of weight-related chronic diseases such as diabetes is of great concern to health care professionals, and the need for prevention education is critical.
Garden programs work to combat this epidemic by teaching youth about healthy lifestyles including proper nutrition and physical activity. Through a gardening program, students gain first hand experience with fresh fruits and vegetables. They discover that produce does not magically appear on the grocery store shelves and learn about the important role of agriculture in our society. The pride and curiosity sparked by growing the fruits and vegetables along with the familiarity of where they come from motivates students to try them, often times leading to more positive attitudes and eating behaviors. Fruits and vegetables are an important part of the diet not only because they provide essential vitamins, but also because they are also linked to prevention of health problems like cancer and heart disease. Studies show that a majority of children do not eat the recommended amount of fresh fruits and vegetables each day, and so they are missing out on these benefits. A garden program increases produce availability and creates opportunities to teach students what they should eat through fun, hands-on experiences.
A healthy lifestyle is more than just eating right, though. Students also need to adopt good exercise habits. The garden provides a wide range of physical activity through digging, planting and weeding. The garden activities are often so captivating that students will not even realize they are exercising. Plus, it is an activity they can participate in for the rest of their lives.