Planting the seed for better health – The Cayman edible schoolyard project

There are daily articles and news reports about the threat to the health of our citizens by leading increasingly unhealthy lifestyles, especially our children. Education about the facts and providing real solutions to the problems are necessary to turn the tide and stop what is being deemed as the “Fatting of the World”.

During the last few decades, food has become more and more industrialized, packaged and processed. Much of this food is unhealthy and is causing problems not only to our well-being but also to the well-being of the planet.  Many of us, particularly children, have lost our connection with our food and where it comes from.

The challenge becomes how do you reach children to make sure they truly understand how vital good health and nutrition is?

There is hope: we are starting to see the connection again through the innovation and dedication of teachers, administrators and students who have started schoolyard garden projects. These projects are becoming more and more common from towns all across the USA all the way to the White House. The philosophy behind the garden projects is that by helping children learn the principles of gardening they become familiar with the many relationships and cycles within nature, and develop an awareness of how the food they eat is affected by the way they treat the environment.  From their experience in the garden they can learn the importance eating healthy and nutritious food and important life skills. The gardening experience itself brings health benefits like exercise, time spent outdoors in the fresh air, and a sense of well being.

The garden also helps develop self-reliance and self-esteem and encourages pride in the school environment. It offers an “out of the box” approach to engage youth to understand the direct relationship between the foods on their plate to the impact on their life.

Alice Waters, founder and proprietor of Chez Panisse, a restaurant in Berkeley, California, and author of several cookbooks including a storybook and cookbook for children is the founder of the “Edible Schoolyard” program.

“Edible schoolyard” was piloted at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School 11 years ago. The program uses active participation in a school garden and kitchen to teach children respect for the plant and each other.

The predominant goals of the program are to educate kids about food, from seed to table, and to improve eating habits and the health of school age children. Ms. Waters sites childhood obesity and diabetes as key reasons for the need and development of this program.

According to a study by Harvard Medical School cited in The New York Times Magazine, “After one year students at King, compared with a control group at a similar middle school, showed improvement in behavior and had fewer emotional problems. They were savvier about ecology, and their overall grade point averages improved.”

The George Hicks High School schoolyard garden project – “project grow”

Taking inspiration from overseas edible schoolyard projects, Generali Worldwide has partnered with George Hicks Campus to launch a schoolyard garden initiative for the coming 2009-2010 school year called “Project Grow”. The project will help develop a sustainable schoolyard garden where students help plan and execute the garden and have hands on experience learning about healthy eating and the importance of nutritional choices.

“We are excited to partner with George Hicks for our pilot project”, states Maureen Cubbon, Marketing and Health & Wellness Manager for Generali Worldwide. “This program uses food through sustainable agriculture as the vehicle to learn about healthy foods and nutrition and for bringing about personal growth and transformation. This project is something we have been working on for some time now, so it is really satisfying to see that it is coming to life.”

Mr. Manoosingh, a teacher at George Hicks, started the garden project at the school many years ago and because of limited funding, he was not able to see it to its full potential. It was a perfect time for us to not only help George Hicks with their current garden, but also to introduce the pilot project to Cayman.

The goal is to successfully launch this at George Hicks and then to find additional funding to really see this project flourish. We would love to be able to offer this to other willing schools throughout the Cayman Islands.”

Lyneth Monteith, Acting Campus Manager at George Hicks Campus is also a great supporter of this project. “It is wonderful to have the opportunity to expand what has been a club project with tremendous possibilities.  This partnership will make it possible to involve more students and to connect it to the whole area of healthy living”.

Today, child obesity is shocking. At the present rate of increase, one out of every three children can be expected to develop diabetes. This is simply not acceptable. By offering new and exciting ways to address nutrition we can hope to have a great and direct impact on our youth.

The amazing benefits of gardening for everyone

Gardening has continued to increase in popularity from just 10 years ago. More and more people are picking up the gardening hobby and sticking with it for the joy it brings and the health perks as well.

Here are just a few of the ways gardening can improve your physical and mental health.

Gardening can actually be a nice, low impact work out. Weeding or cultivating can burn around 200 calories an hour. Doing more strenuous garden work such as clearing weeds or hauling rocks can even burn as much as 600 calories per hour. Experts suggest that even low-to-moderate intensity activities, when done for as little as 30 minutes a day, bring cardiovascular benefits.

Working in the garden can also be a form of strength training and build endurance and flexibility. An article in the August 2005 issue of Reader’s Digest suggests that between edging and raking the lawn, walking back and forth to the mulch pile, pulling weeds, digging holes, and planting seeds, gardening uses all of the major muscle groups.

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables every day is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Research continues to show that there are many essential nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables that may protect you from cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and type II diabetes. Eating a diet with lots of fresh produce also gives you more energy; helps reduce weight gain, and may even reduce the effects of aging.

Finally, spending time in nature reduces stress. Horticulture Therapy is a new area of study that has even found that just viewing nature can have stress-reducing benefits. Gardens can be planted with stress reduction in mind, using soothing colors and scents. Studies have also found that working in the garden helps people who are sick recover more quickly.

A garden can be an escape from the pressures of a job or other responsibilities. For many people, a garden is their own little piece of nature. This kind of sanctuary can help lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease.

For more information or to be a part of “Project Grow”, please contact Maureen Cubbon at [email protected]