Promoting Good Nutrition and Fighting Cancer with School Gardens

The school garden at Rolling Hills Elementary School in San Diego is thriving. The children, Principal Kathleen Marshack, and parent volunteers got a chance to show it off while demonstrating how fun it is to grow (and eat) your own food! Some special gifts and attention were brought Tuesday by representatives from the Western Growers Foundation and the American Cancer Society. A pomegranate tree, young cauliflower plants, pots for planting, gardening gloves and lots of healthy carrots and Mandarin orange treats were provided by WG Vice President of Marketing Paula Olson and Marketing Coordinator Sabrina Blair. More educational gifts -- cookbooks for healthy meals and coloring books about cancer prevention were brought by American Cancer Society Executive Vice President David Veneziano. The message to the class of third-graders assembled was all about the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables and how healthy eating choices help reduce the risk of cancer.

The school garden at Rolling Hills was first begun in 2004. In April 2014 the Western Growers Foundation awarded $500 to help sustain the effort. Today the garden is flourishing. Parent volunteer, Ella German, was also on-hand to help, as she is almost every day. She has been instrumental in teaching the children at Rolling Hills how to plant, nurture and care for the plants. As a result, the children have taken an interest in seeing how crops grow. They also have no trouble eating the products of their labor.

Earlier this year, WG and the ACS formed a collaboration to raise awareness about healthy eating and cancer prevention. Research shows that one-third of cancer deaths are linked to poor diet, physical inactivity and obesity. The school garden program, begun in 2003 by the Western Growers Foundation, has donated funds to start or sustain edible gardens in over 800 schools, public and private, thus far. The Foundation’s mission is to plant and sustain a fruit and vegetable garden in every willing Arizona and California school. It most recently awarded $75,000 to schools in Arizona as part of its annual grant cycle. Grants are provided through the Arizona Department of Agriculture and the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture as part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Block Grant.

As the children busily donned gloves and listened to Mrs. German give directions, each planted a young cauliflower plant and then helped plant the pomegranate tree. The mother of one of the students remarked about how much her daughter is being influenced by the school garden program. She said her daughter now asks her to serve more fruits and vegetables at meals because she enjoys them. Other members of the family are now eating more vegetables because of it. “Healthy eating has become our lifestyle!”

The Edible School Gardens Program is open to all K-12 schools, both public and private, in Arizona and California. Western Growers Foundation will be awarding an additional $150,000 to 100 K-12 schools in California before the end of this year. “If schools are interested in participating, we encourage them to watch the Foundation’s Collective School Garden Network website for the announcement,” said Paula Olson.

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