Along with the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic, students in Jefferson County are learning how to garden.
Thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two dozen schools across Louisville are adding gardens to their school grounds. Schools that already maintained gardens can use the funding to expand them.
Jill Costin, nutrition initiatives coordinator for Jefferson County Public Schools, told The Courier-Journal that the money was part of a $7.8 million grant the district received last year to promote nutrition and physical activity.
Fern Creek High School senior Katelyn Ong said many of her classmates don't have a "real connection" to where their food comes from and may not recognize it if it looks different than it normally appears in a grocery store.
"I had this green tomato the other day and someone thought it was a pear," she said, shaking her head. "They had no idea that not all tomatoes are red."
Fern Creek teacher Joe Franzen said he and his students added to their garden and helped 26 other schools in the county build raised cedar beds.
School gardens aren't entirely new — they were just created and maintained on a school-by-school basis, said district spokeswoman Lauren Roberts. Some schools have had gardens for years as a way to encourage healthy eating, tie in science studies and keep students active.
Roberts said the grant allows the district to bring gardens to a larger group of schools.
"We have also created a system where our cafeterias can purchase the food grown in the school gardens so that students could be eating vegetables and fruit grown by their classmates," Costin said. "No schools have started using that yet but I think it's only a matter of time."
Franzen said he hopes there will be enough vegetables from the garden at Fern Creek to create a salad bar with student-grown food.
Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary teacher Marilyn Grant said the garden at her school is being used by students at all grade levels and is having a big impact.
"It's incredible to see students get excited about learning to harvest vegetables or cleaning the garden," Grant said. "They are happy to try food they wouldn't have before, and it's just created a lot of excitement at our school."
Debra Osoffsky, who coordinates the family resource centers at Sanders and Stonestreet elementary schools, said teachers can tie-in just about any subject area with the gardens.
"Students are out there practicing measuring, even," she said. "It's not just a matter of talking about healthy eating or science."
Franzen said he hopes the program continues to expand because gardens create opportunities to close knowledge and health gaps for students.
"On an international level, food is something everyone shares," Franzen said. "On a national level, we have an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. On a personal level, agriculture is part of their heritage. It's financially beneficial, and it also provides some stress relief for students to get outside and do something physical. Growing your own food completes the gap between where food comes from and what you're putting in your body."
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com