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Growing Our Impact with a School Garden: How We Became One of America’s Healthiest Schools

Every March, thousands of people join in celebrating National Nutrition Month, a time to recognize the important role healthy eating plays in our lives. As an educator, being able to impart lifelong, healthy eating habits in my students is one of the highlights of teaching. At Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland, we instill these habits in a hands-on way, through our school garden. From bright tomatoes to juicy strawberries, my students take pride in growing crops and getting to taste new, healthy foods!

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We take the "whole child" approach and believe that every child should be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged. Through this approach and our work with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, we ensure that Buck Lodge supports good health, and that students learn healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. We accomplish this through many means including implementing a robust district wellness policy, garnering help from the community and achieving support from our school administration—we’ve even been nationally recognized for our efforts as one of America’s Healthiest Schools!

Our school has roughly 1,200 students, more than 90 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals, so it is critical that the food that we provide is nutritious and appealing. We know that healthy students are better learners, so it is important to us that we fuel their bodies to best succeed in the classroom. In addition, we want our students to learn how to make healthy food choices, grow their own food and be stewards of their environment. Our urban garden, which was started in 2011, has allowed us to teach our students about these things and so much more.

There are typically at least 50 students working in the garden throughout the year. In addition to gaining confidence in feeding themselves, students are able to understand the process of going from seed to harvest to table, all with no pesticides or herbicides. We also utilize the garden extensively during our summer STEM camps, enrichment classes and afterschool clubs, proving that integrating STEM and wellness concepts with garden activities is easy!

Most of all, however, students get excited about eating the “fruits” of their labor, as food from the garden goes directly to students and staff. Students may eat the food in the cafeteria, as part of a taste testing lesson, and sometimes take foods home to their families. The remaining harvest is made available to school staff, including teachers and custodial staff. Over the past two years, we have grown cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, green peppers, mint, beets, strawberries, cilantro, carrots, cantaloupe and watermelon!

With the support of the Healthy Schools Program, you, too, can “grow” your impact and become one of America’s Healthiest Schools. Enroll the school in the Healthy Schools Program to access free guidance, tools and trainings today!

This post was written by Deborah Branch, a science teacher at Buck Lodge Middle School.