Capitalizing on research showing that establishing healthy eating habits begins during childhood, The World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) launched a teaching garden program in ten elementary schools in Lao PDR, Thailand, and the Philippines. The program, which ran from 2003 to 2006, taught students how to care for the plants, but the program didn’t stop there: students brought vegetables home and wrote down how the family prepared them, cooking classes were held, the schools held parties to get parents behind the project, and students were quizzed on their knowledge of the indigenous vegetables grown in the gardens.
The program facilitators also took blood samples and measured the children’s weight and height to determine whether they were in better health than children from control schools without garden programs. They also evaluated children’s knowledge of indigenous vegetables. Children from the participating schools in Thailand performed the best in the knowledge category, and boys in participating schools in the Philippines and Thailand had the best hemoglobin levels. Boys in Lao PDR were still somewhat anemic, but children from schools with gardens were less likely to be underweight.
Recently, the AVRDC has announced that they have received a grant from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and will be implementing a nine-year version of a similar program in Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Bhutan, and Nepal. The program is called Vegetables Go to School: Improving Nutrition by Agricultural Diversification. Participating schools will establish gardens with kits that contain, among other things, between 10 and 15 vegetables adapted for local climates.
Getting children involved with gardening can help to preserve family farming traditions, as well as build healthy eating habits early on. It can also be an effective way to get children interested in growing their own food along with educating them about food production and preparation