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Oak Park Schools Introducing Student-Run Organic Food Gardens

These 'learning gardens' will teach students hands-on lessons in nutrition and agriculture.

To ensure that our newfound health consciousness doesn't fall by the wayside amongst the other forgotten fads, we've got to shake awake the younger generation. To that point, in early July, Oak Park Schools started construction on organic food gardens that'll live at six of its school buildings. The district has partnered with Big Green, a Denver-based organization "committed to creating a healthier future for kids by connecting them to nutritious food through a nationwide network of 'learning gardens' and food literacy programs."

Garden clubs will be established at each participating school, and students will be hands-on during the entire growing and harvesting process, the horticulture being folded into the curriculum. "One of the goals is to expose them to nutritional food that they may not have seen before," says Suzanne Lallier, elementary instructional specialist and project coordinator. "Another goal," she adds, "is to get them involved in the planting process, and what I mean by that, is actually digging the holes, moving the dirt around (and), watering and caring for the plants."

Three of the six areas are already complete, with 12-bed gardens to be built at Key and Einstein elementary schools soon, and a larger, 16-bed garden to pop up at Oak Park High School next spring. They'll be accessible not just to the students but to the community at large. Lallier says, "It's another way to showcase what Oak Park students are learning about gardening and nutrition, and the community can see this. They can actually be a part of it." She says families will be able to visit the gardens, pick vegetables together and take them home and have them for dinner. "The home-school connection is there as well."

In September, Big Green reps will visit the schools and introduce themselves and the gardens to students, who'll then get an opportunity – class by class – to go out and literally get their hands dirty. Lallier hopes that the kids find a joy for healthy foods and learn to find and make better choices. "For some kids, they're not always wanting to try different things. If they grow it, hopefully they'll see it and then want to eat it."

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