UF researchers: Florida sees increase in school gardens
By Beverly James
School gardens have been popping up like pea plants all over Florida, and students and teachers are eating up the benefits.
There are approximately 1,300 school gardens in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. These gardens provide numerous benefits to students and teachers, said Kohrine Counts, a dietetics intern and master’s student at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
A recent study by Counts and Karla Shelnutt, an associate professor in the department of family, youth and community sciences and UF/IFAS Extension nutrition specialist, shows that school gardens are an excellent way to get fresh produce into classrooms and cafeterias. And, they also provide students with a living classroom where concepts related to science, math, agriculture and nutrition can be learned and applied, Counts said.
“School gardens get children outside and offers an interactive learning environment,” Counts said. “It gives them a chance to see where their food comes from, and allows children to develop life skills such as leadership, self-awareness, decision making and responsibility.”
Teachers also benefit from school gardens, Counts said. “Teachers can engage students in a different way. They can teach math, history, science and other subjects in an interactive manner,” she said. “Another benefit is that school gardens allow teachers to engage students who speak a different language or come from a different culture. The garden doesn’t have those types of boundaries, so it’s an excellent way to interact with students who are speakers of other languages.”
And, students who won’t touch a vegetable at home may be more inclined to eat those that they have grown in the school garden.
“Teachers and students are introduced to different vegetables that they may not see at home or may not want to try,” Counts said.
“We know that vegetables can protect against certain diseases, so students are getting different vitamins and minerals as part of their diets.”