Posted on 03/05/2010 at 02:46:13 PM by Student BloggerProof is Rooted in Statistics: A Need for Empirical Research on the Efficacy of School Gardens Programs
By: Caitlin L.
The implementation of school gardens and garden based curriculum for grade school and high school children has become more popular in recent years. With programs such as Edible Schoolyard, Farm to School, and the thousands of school gardens cropping up in cities nationwide, the use of gardens to promote a deeper understanding of where our food comes from, as well as a hands-on lab for science, math, and social learning is no longer a radical idea. As a result, the recent article written by Caitlin Flanagan in the Atlantic entitled “Cultivating Failure: How school gardens are cheating our most vulnerable students” has promoted quite a stir in the school garden proponent world.
Flannigan believes that school garden programs are based on an ideology constructed by the middle class that does a disservice to students by taking away from classroom hours and “hijack(ing) the curricula of so many schools”. She dismisses the idea that these gardens may expose children to the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables and scoffs at the notion that students may live in an area where accessibility of fresh produce is limited. According to Flanagan there is virtually no evidence that any of these programs actually produce the outcomes they claim to address.
To a nutrition professional, it seems of obvious importance to expose children to fresh fruits and vegetables early and often, especially since we live in an age where childhood obesity is thriving and the CDC predicts that 1 in every 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime if trends continue. Students in these programs not only grow the produce, experience what something tastes like fresh out of the dirt, but also develop an appreciation for the work that goes into the food that ends up on their plates. Additionally, curriculum is developed around the gardens including math lessons on recipe conversions, biology and ecology lessons, and working in a team environment to develop a product to be proud of.
For those who deeply believe in the potential behind garden based programs, it is easy to feel defensive after reading this article. But perhaps we should thank the Atlantic for publishing it and bringing our attention to the fact that we need to produce more viable research. While there have been several studies on school based gardens and nutrition outcomes, a recent review of the evidence published in the American Dietetic Association found that although signs point to the potential for school based gardens to increase intake of fresh produce as well as increase the willingness of children to taste new fruits and vegetables, peer-reviewed, empirical research is lacking.
As Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk said, “People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong...Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?” So thank you Ms. Flanagan for sending us a call to arms to work together and make our positive thoughts bloom. For those of us who have stood in front of a child tasting a cherry tomato pulled off the vine there is an understanding that we are contributing something great to their development. As one local garden coordinator that I spoke with said, “Children eat what they grow”. However, in the lifespan of the development of a body of evidence, school based garden programs are newborns. We need the proof for the critics. To those of us who are trained as researchers, who know how to evaluate, implement, and correctly assess the outcomes, and who also believe strongly in the ability of hands-on garden based education, it's time to produce those significant results.