In the Garden:
Middle South
October, 2005
Regional Report

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Instead of buying your pumpkin at a grocery store, bring your children to a pick-your-own pumpkin patch so they can see how pumpkins grow. Then plan to grow your own next year!

Encouraging Healthy Lifestyles

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site (http://www.cdc.gov), 61 percent of North Carolina adults are overweight or obese, and 27 percent of North Carolina high-school students are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. What can we, as individuals, organizations, and a society, do to encourage more healthful eating and exercise habits?

Facing the Challenge
A state-funded initiative called Growing Minds/Healthy Bodies is tackling the problem head-on. With the goal of improving children's health, they are using innovative techniques to guide children through the maze of food choices they face every day.

Last month the coalition organized an event for local high school students. Recognizing that teens are role models for younger students, the group hosted about 150 students at The Orange Peel, a local music hall normally off-limits to minors, for an evening of entertainment and learning. The goal? To raise awareness among teenagers about the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity.

The evening included cooking demonstrations of healthful, freshly prepared dishes by local chefs, including vegetable-rich recipes and sushi, which aren't normally part of the teens' daily menu. Many students were pleasantly surprised to find that they enjoyed such healthful foods. After dinner, organizers showed the movie "Supersize Me," which chronicles the health effects and weight gain that plague filmmaker Morgan Spurlock as he eats nothing but McDonald's food for a month.

How School Gardens Can Help
School and community gardening programs are important tools for promoting better eating habits. The younger we can engage children in the garden, the sooner they'll likely develop an appreciation for its bounty. Children who shy away from vegetables on their dinner plates often shock their parents by biting into a juicy, ripe tomato off a plant they've nurtured from seed.

As school physical education and sports programs succumb to budget cuts, it's even more important that students be guided toward healthful pursuits, and gardening is a perfect example. School gardens provide not only a venue for specific lessons in a range of subjects, they also get students outdoors, moving their bodies, breathing fresh air, and enjoying the literal fruits of their labors. Innovative programs, such as the high school event described above, are important, but nothing replaces the hands-on, experiential learning in the garden.

Making the Connection
Recently, Growing Minds/Healthy Bodies organized field trips to local farms for younger students, where they saw firsthand where their food comes from. The next day the children watched local chefs prepare healthful meals using the ingredients they saw growing in the fields. Then they sampled the dishes. With so many students just a generation or two removed from their farming heritage, programs like these not only help children make the connection between themselves and their food, but also between themselves and the lives of their parents and grandparents.

Teaching children healthy eating and exercise habits takes effort and commitment. Children are bombarded with advertising by fast food, candy, and soft drink companies. A nationwide survey of vending machines in middle schools and high schools found that 75 percent of the drinks and 85 percent of the snacks sold are of poor nutritional value. (The survey was organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest: http://www.cspinet.org).

It's up to us as parents and community members to introduce and reinforce healthful alternatives for both ourselves and our children. The adverse health effects of obesity, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition are too well known for us to do nothing. Consider supporting your local school's gardening programs with either money or time. Encourage school and community programs that promote healthful activities. Join the fight to remove junk food from school vending machines. As gardeners, we know how gardening improves both our physical and mental health. We just need to work together get the word out!


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