From seed to table-the Cayman food revolution

Jamie Oliver walks into a first grade classroom and goes up to a table display that is draped with a sheet. As he pulls the sheet away to reveal piles of fruits and vegetables underneath, you can hear gasps of horror ripple through the classroom.

Oliver is testing the waters with first graders by seeing how well they know their fruits and vegetables on his TV show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”.

“Who knows what this is?” Oliver asks, holding up a bunch of tomatoes.

He is met with silence. Then he holds up a ketchup container and everyone’s hands go up as the children all know their favourite burger condiment.

When the connection is made that ketchup is made from tomatoes, large eyes form and whispers start, along with a great sense of realisation of how ketchup came to be.

This isn’t just something that happens in the USA; this experiment has been done in schools in the Cayman Islands with similar results.

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: one way we are starting to see the connection again is through the innovation and dedication of teachers, administrators and students who have started schoolyard garden projects. 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 hands on experience in the garden they can learn the importance of eating healthy and nutritious food and also important life skills. The actual gardening itself brings health benefits like exercise, time spent outdoors in the fresh air, and a sense of well being.

These projects are becoming more and more common in towns across the USA all the way up to the White House and are gaining momentum here in the Cayman Islands with the newly launched Project Grow.

This isn’t just something for our youth to embrace. Gardening offers an “out of the box” approach that engages all of us to understand the direct relationship between the foods on our plate and its impact on our life. Gardening has continued to increase in popularity over the last 10 years. 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.

There are daily articles and news reports about the threat to the health of the world by leading increasingly unhealthy lifestyles. This isn’t just a US phenomenon, it hits close to Cayman. Our citizens are becoming unhealthier, and though changes are being made on a school level with food standards for meals, we still need to make sure that families are educated and given tools that can help them take the steps to a healthier life. And why not make it fun? Gardens can be incorporated into homes easily, it is a great cost effective source for fresh vegetables and can lead to some wonderful family time.

THE BENEFITS OF GARDENING

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

Physiological

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, brings 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.

Nutrition

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.

Stress

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 colours 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.

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