Did you know that melons were first cultivated in Persia and northern Africa nearly 4,000 years ago, and later by ancient Greeks and Romans? Or that collard greens were also grown by ancient Greeks and Romans and are the oldest leafy green within the cabbage family? Or that carrots were originally a purplish color and cultivated in Central Asia, near Afghanistan, several thousand years ago?                 

The Network for a Healthy California’s Harvest of the Month educator newsletters take an in-depth look at a fruit or vegetable each month – mandarins, persimmons, tomatoes, winter squash, asparagus, melons, carrots, and dozens more – that could be grown in a school garden. There are a total of 35 four-page newsletters featuring a variety of fun, engaging and intellectually challenging facts, information, and activities to encourage exploration and learning about fruits and vegetables – and why it’s important to eat them every day. Activities within the  newsletters can be directly tied to lessons on nutrition education, agriculture, and California’s Content Standards including science, health, English language arts, and mathematics.

School garden activities, along with other newsletter sections, feature hands-on opportunities for students to engage in nutrition, agriculture, and science. Activities may be implemented in a classroom or school garden.

Take the Melons educator newsletter, for example. A “Taste Testing” activity guides students through tasting several varieties of melons, exploring what they look like and how they feel, as well as learning about their nutritional value. Students can even download and print a Nutrition Facts label for four different varieties of melons. The newsletter provides a section on “Reasons to Eat Melons” (an excellent source of carotenoids) and a “Cooking in Class” section so everyone can prepare and enjoy a healthy melon snack.

For those who don’t know what carotenoids are, the newsletter provides a detailed, easy-to-understand explanation, along with a section on how to grow melons and botanical facts.

The third page of the newsletter is devoted to school garden-related activities. “Just the Facts” provides interesting bits of information, such as on average, it takes about 10 to 15 bee visits for proper pollination to grow melons.

 “Student Sleuths” suggests activities students can engage in to learn more about melons. For example:  Melons are a member of the gourd family. Make a list of other produce items that belong to this family. Is the melon a fruit or a vegetable? Write a persuasive argument for your statement.

“A Slice of Melon History” provides just that, a history of melons while “School Garden: Bug Hunt” suggests activities for those classrooms with access to a school or community garden. “Home Grown Facts” is a source of information about the melon crop in California.

“Adventurous Activities” encourage students to estimate the weight of a melon and its circumference while also determining the edible portion of a particular melon. In “Cafeteria Connections,” students are encouraged to work with school nutrition staff to host a “Melon Contest” to celebrate the many varieties of melons.

There is even a “Physical Activity Corner” centered on activities that encourage kids to be more active during the school day to improve focus and learning.

If you already have a school garden or are looking to start one, why not use it to incorporate a healthy dose of nutrition education into your curriculum and help students learn more about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables? The Harvest of the Month educator newsletters have plenty of activities to help get you started. Check out the monthly newsletters at www.harvestofthemonth.cdph.ca.gov.

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Harvest of the Month is developed by the California Department of Public Health’s Network for a Healthy California (Network). The Network is a statewide public health effort working with hundreds of partners and organizations to empower low-income Californians to live healthier lives through good nutrition and physical activity. Funding is from USDA SNAP, known in California as CalFresh. For CalFresh information, call 1-877-847-3663. For important nutrition information, visit www.cachampionsforchange.net.

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