BATON ROUGE, La. -- With childhood obesity continuing to be a major issue in Louisiana and around the country, the LSU AgCenter is taking steps to help correct the problem by helping teach healthy eating through school gardening.
Agents from as far away as Tallulah attended a recent training session in Baton Rouge to learn how to plant strawberries in a school garden and get copies of a curriculum that links gardens to the classroom.
Kathryn Fontenot, LSU AgCenter gardening specialist, let the 13 agents know that this is the time to get the plants in the ground. The training participants were given 1,960 strawberry plants to take back and plant at a school in their parish.
“The thought is, if the students plant the gardens, they will learn leadership skills and team-building skills, and they will learn to make healthier eating choices because they are eating fresh fruits and vegetables they are growing themselves,” Fontenot said.
In addition, she said, a garden allows them to do their science and math lessons outside instead of in the classroom.
Student grades are showing improvement in schools where gardens have been implemented, according to Miles Brashier, LSU AgCenter agent in Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes.
“For the past three years, we’ve seen improvement in LEAP and Iowa test scores that I believe are a result of the lessons the students learn from gardening,” Brashier said.
Students not only learn math and science in the garden, but also history.
“One of the things we’re doing now is putting up signs to show the plant’s history. One plant is the carrot, which comes from Afghanistan, and the current events lesson is that we’re fighting a war there right now,” he said.
Gardening in the schools also has become popular in urban areas. LSU AgCenter agents Eva Davis in Baton Rouge and Russell Harris in New Orleans each have schools with gardens.
“At University Terrace Elementary, we have the fifth-grade students caring for their garden, and when they have their 4-H Club meetings, they create salads and other dishes from their garden as refreshments,” Davis said of one school in Baton Rouge. “They grow lettuce, radishes, carrots, potatoes, sugarcane and a few other crops.”
The school has a high international student enrollment, which allows the students to grow crops they may not have in their native country, she said.
The key to successful school gardens is to promote more than just the garden itself, Brashier said.
“We teach them math skills by measuring the space between the plants, and we teach some science by picking the bugs off the plants, which adds some entomology to the lesson,” Brashier said. “Plus, we teach them character at the same time, which includes caring, sharing and respect.”
The good thing about the school gardens is the students plant it and grow it. And in the end, they reap the rewards of their labor by taking what they grow home with them, he said.
“There is more interest than ever coming from teachers who want to start gardens at their schools,” Fontenot said. "To learn more, go to www.lsuagcenter.com and click on lawn and garden, then click on the Master Gardener tab, and there they will find the school garden section."
The website is continually being updated, and Fontenot invites those interested to continue checking for new information.