Iowa State Is Part of People’s Garden School Pilot Program

The People's GardenAMES, Iowa – Iowa State University Extension is one of four state cooperative extension services that together will develop and run the People’s Garden School Pilot Program. It will serve an estimated 2,800 students attending 70 elementary schools in Washington, New York, Iowa and Arkansas.

The Cooperative Extension Services of Iowa State University, Cornell University, and the University of Arkansas are collaborating with Washington State University Extension, the lead institution, on the project. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement today.

The Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth pilot explores the impact of school gardens on learning and on changing student consumption patterns so they make healthier food choices.

"School gardens hold great promise for educating our kids about food production and nutrition," Vilsack said. "Learning where food comes from and what fresh food tastes like, and the pride of growing and serving your own fruits and vegetables, are life-changing experiences. Engaging kids in our efforts to end childhood hunger and curb childhood obesity is critical if we are going to succeed."

The $1 million pilot program is authorized under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act. The schools selected to participate in this pilot come from urban, suburban and rural communities and have at least 50 percent of their students qualified to receive free or reduced-price school meals. The initiative is part of the USDA People’s Garden Initiative, which establishes community and school gardens across the nation to help unite neighborhoods in a common effort and inspire simple solutions to challenges facing our country – from hunger to the environment. The announcement comes as First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let's Move!” initiative celebrates April as National Gardening Month.

20 Iowa Schools to Participate

Twenty Iowa schools and many community partners such as 4-H clubs, Boys and Girls Clubs and other after-school youth groups will participate in the Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth pilot, according to Janet Toering, an ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development specialist and state leader for the project in Iowa.

“Half the schools are in rural areas and half are urban. They either have a summer school program or work with youth organizations for summer activities involving lunch,” Toering said. “The pilot targets one grade between grades 1–3 and another grade between grades 4– 6. Some will receive gardens in 2012 and others will be control sites to receive gardens once the research project is over.”

The following schools will participate: West Liberty Elementary School; Muscatine Community School District; Roundy Elementary, Columbus Junction; Storm Lake Community Schools; Diagonal Community Schools; Mount Ayr Community Schools; East Union Community Schools; Creston Community Schools; Red Oak Community Schools; Lenox Community Schools; Walnut Grove Elementary, Council Bluffs; Rue Elementary, Council Bluffs; Roosevelt Elementary, Sioux City; Hunt Elementary, Sioux City; Hiawatha Elementary, Cedar Rapids Schools; Bunger Middle School, Evansdale; GWCA Academy, Waterloo; Highland Elementary School, Waterloo; Poyner Elementary School, Evansdale; and Midtown Family Community Center, Sioux City.

Four Goals for School, Community Gardens

The Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth pilot has set four goals for these school and community gardens, Toering said.

  • Increase fruit and vegetable consumption: “We want to increase kids’ access to and consumption of fruits and vegetables through hands-on learning about growing food,” Toering said.
  • Empower youth in their communities: Youth will be highly involved in building and sustaining the gardens to maximize their interest and learning.
  • Contribute toward a sustainable environment and food system: The pilot will help kids and educators appreciate the public health, environmental and social benefits gardens provide to local communities, such as physical activity, the connection to nature, fresh food production, social networks and sustainability.
  • Build a nationwide network: Extension educators and volunteers will work across disciplines to leverage existing federal, state and local investments in programs like SNAP-ED (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education), 4-H Youth Development, Master Gardeners and other community-based horticulture programs through a common garden-based learning program.

“This important pilot program will make a significant contribution to the development of national models,” said Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. “This program moves us toward our goal of improving the health and nutrition of our kids and communities, and instilling healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime.”