Young students would benefit from planting vegetables

School gardens a healthy idea

It’s common in today’s newspapers to find articles promoting healthy diets, along with columns deploring an increase in obesity in children and adults.

For a time ,the 100-mile diet (shouldn’t it be 160-km?) was all the rage, and it’s still cited, though with lessened frequency.

Another off-and-on media story complains how city children have little concept of how food is grown or where, and no idea of what farming involves.

I believe there’s a response in southern B.C. that could address all three of those concerns – if not in the rest of the country, where the climate is more severe though modern greenhouse technology alleviates that problem.

Why cannot every school have its own kitchen garden, maintained by pupils using only hand tools and no biocides, to grow healthy foods for pupils’ lunches?

Not only would students learn something about food production, they could eat fresh, chemical-free crops they have grown themselves.

There are other teaching benefits, too, which require only the simplest of equipment: germination tests of seed need little more that blotting paper, distilled water and shallow glass dishes; dry sieving will separate fine and coarse soil particles and a scale will determine the proportions of each; a litmus test will measure soil acidity, all simple chemistry which could be extended to show how plants react to differences in pH; students could learn to make compost and use the product to improve soil health.

These projects would provide healthy outdoor activity as an added bonus and could be made a little more exciting by incorporating low-level competition between classes for ‘best’ harvests.

It isn’t difficult to come up with objections to such a scheme, but how valid are they? Are they fundamental reasons or merely excuses for not innovating?

Could student involvement be fitted into the existing curricula? Perhaps not, but curricula are not immutable.

Would safety be compromised? No, because only basic hand tools would be needed and no biocides would be used.

The weather might be unfavourable. True, but dealing with inclement weather is one of the challenges farmers must learn, and students would see for themselves how bad weather affects crop production and can be ameliorated by technology such as simple cloches.

Perhaps parent advisory councils or nurseries and plant stores could help with the not-very-large costs of seed purchase, and Service Clubs or hardware stores could sponsor purchase of tools.

Schools would need help with the initial task of preparing garden beds, but this would be a one-time-only start-up cost.

Is any school, elementary or secondary, public or private, willing to try to implement the idea? Does anyone in authority have the will to encourage such a trial program?

If a prison can do it, why not schools?

Dr. Roy Strang writes monthly on the environment for the Peace Arch News. rmstrang@shaw.ca

 

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