When you hear about Earth Month, what's the first thing you think of? For me it immediately transports me back to elementary school. All of a sudden I am 7 years old again, sitting at my desk transforming a leftover milk carton from lunch into a flower pot while my teacher lists off all of the reasons why we should recycle. These days if you asked a 7 year old what Earth Month means to them, I bet you would be surprised and impressed by their answer.
- Protecting the Planet – "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"…it's an oldie but a goodie. Everything we do has an effect on our planet. What do you do to help reduce your footprint? It can be as easy as carpooling to work, turning the faucet off when you brush your teeth or bringing reusable bags to the grocery store.
- Living a Healthy Lifestyle – Everyone knows they should eat healthy and get more exercise but did you know that these habits affect more than just your own health? Walking or riding your bike instead of driving helps cut down on gas use nationwide. The Flexitarian diet is one of my favorites because it promotes plant based proteins as the center of the plate. By reducing your meat consumption you can reduce your environmental footprint.
- Responsibility – Being sustainable literally means to perpetuate existence. Everything boils down to our responsibility for taking care of our planet so that we can leave our children and their children with the same amazing earth we have today.
Schools and their communities have done a tremendous job of teaching their students that sustainability is more than just one day or one month of the year. Instead they are incorporating important lessons into the school curriculum that reminds them sustainability needs to be lived every day.
In Newville, Pennsylvania all three elementary schools in Big Spring School District now have gardens. They call them their Eat.Learn.Live Gardens because they are meant to teach the students about agriculture and the importance of sustainable growth. The gardens have become part of the school community, everyone from students to teachers to custodians pitch in to help the garden prosper. Not only do the students get to help grow the produce but they get to enjoy eating it as well. The vegetables and herbs grown in the gardens are used in the school cafes. Michelle Morgan, Food Service Director for Big Spring, says "There has been a great response from the kids regarding the gardens and items that appear on the lunch menu. In particular, they love the homemade kale chips, oven browned parsley potatoes and white radishes." When it comes to living sustainably everyday these gardens teach the students to do just that. Even in the summer months when school is not in session the gardens are still available to the community members. They are able to pick vegetables for their families in exchange for picking a weed or two.
So why have a school garden? Gardens not only give students access to new and exciting produce they may not get anywhere else but also provides additional physical activity during the school day. Gardens provide teachers and school staff the opportunity to bring their classrooms outside. If you think about it, any portion of the school curriculum can be tied to gardening. Math, social studies, art, science it can all be tied back to the garden…talk about new ways to help our students grow!
If you are interested in starting a garden in your school but don't know where to start, reach out to your food service director. Chartwells has compiled numerous resources that are extremely helpful when embarking on a school garden project. You can also request a copy of our comprehensive eat. learn. live. School Garden Program Guide right from our website! This resources leverages the experience of KidsGardening.org, Chartwells K12 and our 8 pilot school locations who believe in the powerful impact gardens have on creating sustainable school systems and practices as well as sustainable wellness habits for students.
Gardens aren't the only way to live sustainably every day. Try starting a recycling program, start a walking club or try going meatless one day a week. Every little bit counts! #EarthMonth
Aliza Stern, RD is a Chartwells K12 Regional Dietitian in the Mid Atlantic Region.