What a delight it is to share gardening with my granddaughter. She has enjoyed spending time with us in the garden since she was a toddler. I’m pleased that she is learning that growing, eating and living well are our way of life – it’s part of our family culture.

As we plant seeds, nurture seedlings, harvest and celebrate the results of our efforts she frequently exclaims, “This is so much fun!”

We also cook, and enjoy beautiful, fresh and nutritious meals together. The experience is rewarding and full of love and learning for the entire family.

This month, she’s been helping me harvest the rest of my summer crops and prepare the garden for fall planting. As we pull the last of the summer plants, I’ve been teaching her about composting and soil.

Hands On and Hands In the Compost Pile and Soil

I believe these experiences are making impressions that will last throughout her lifetime and that they’ll be passed onto her children one day. In addition to eating healthy vegetables and fruits, I hope she’ll develop a greater awareness of our environment, learn how important it is to take care of our planet and live in sustainable ways.

Learning to Love Fresh Vegetables

She loves spending time in the garden and it’s thrilling to see how much she already knows. We count our blessings and realize that many children don’t have the opportunity to see where healthy food comes from or to put their hands in the soil.

Let’s Model Active Healthy Living for Families and Children

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), since 1970, the percentage of childhood obesity has more than tripled. Too many children (and adults) consume too much sugar, have steady diets of processed and fast foods, and lead sedentary lives.

According to the State of Obesity Report, a project of the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation , fortunately, recent data shows that childhood obesity rates are beginning to decrease in areas that have implemented strategies to make healthy foods and beverages available in schools and communities, and promoted physical activity into daily life.

Cultural Change – More than a Field Trip to the Farm

When we routinely spend time together in the garden, we nurture important relationships, increase our activity and develop healthier appetites for delicious, nutrient rich foods. We have fun and learn together, improve our own health and model healthier lifestyles for the next generation.

Grants are Available for Farm to School Programs

Fortunately, Farm to School Programs are multiplying and they’re working. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been providing grants to school districts and other entities across the country. These grants help bring more local food into schools and support educators who are teaching kids about where their food comes from, helping them learn to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, and motivating them to make healthier food choices.

October is “National Farm to School Month”

The National Farm to School Network improves connections between communities, fresh, healthy food and local food producers by influencing food purchasing and education practices at schools and early care and education settings. The network was launched in 2007 through a collaboration of more than 30 organizations seeking to shape the farm to school movement. (NSFN) organizes National Farm to School Month in October.

In October, schools, education sites, farms, communities and organizations across the country are celebrating food education, school gardens and lunch tray’s filled with healthy, local ingredients. You can join this celebration by sharing your own Farm to School stories in social media #FarmToSchool and #F2SMonth.

Programs that Help Children Learn and Grow

Everyone doesn’t have the space, time and interest in growing their own food. However, there are plenty of ways to connect with local growers, purchase fresh local food. Many types of  programs are available and include activities that allow children to explore, connect with the environment, develop appetites and gain appreciation for the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Captain Planet Foundation

The Captain Planet Foundation’s  Project Learning Garden provides schools with outdoor learning laboratories including garden kits, curriculum and kits, mobile cooking carts, professional training for garden-based learning strategies and lessons, garden program support, and a PLG Library of resources to support schoolyard garden programs.

Gardens for Growing Communities

Non-profits like Gardens for Growing Communities (G4GC) engage volunteers and students in school gardens and local forest areas to raise awareness and increase appetites for a healthier way of life. G4GC is a nonpartisan organization founded in 2015 to help youth in under-served communities connect with and value their natural environment.

Georgia Organics

Georgia Organics supports organic agriculture and healthy families by empowering farmers to thrive, helping schools engage children in delicious and educational farm-to-school experiences, and making organic and local food accessible to all Georgians. In June of this year, The Common Market Georgia, Georgia Organics, Voices for Georgia’s Children, and Quality Care for Children announced their partnership to expand healthy food access for Georgia’s most vulnerable children by encouraging family engagement, helping children learn where their food comes from, and expanding opportunities for local farmers to sell fresh foods to early care and education programs. Last year, the Georgia Departments of Agriculture, Public Health, Education and Georgia Organics came together to celebrate 53 school districts (nearly 1/3 of the states districts) that are participating in Farm to School projects.

Truly Living Well

The Truly Living Well Young Growers Initiative  in Atlanta, Georgia is designed to teach students the importance of organic, locally grown food, how to grow their own food and become good stewards of our environment. The program offers face-to-face instruction on farms and in schools in the Atlanta area. The Atlanta Food Bank also teams up with Truly Living Well to raise awareness among these young growers, help them understand the issues surrounding hunger, and grasp the need for food equity.

Wylde Center

The Wylde Center in Decatur, Georgia offers a variety of activities for children and families including Decatur Farm to School (DF2S) which is led by parents, teachers, community members, and Wylde Center staff. This DF2S program works to improve nutrition and knowledge of where food comes from. Through work in classrooms, cafeterias, communities, and gardens of the City Schools of Decatur, students receive hands-on outdoor education, environmental awareness, and appetite for fresh fruits and veggies . Wylde Center also hosts Nature Camp and hands-on field trips for environmental learning, as well as teacher training and workshops.

Community Gardens Offer Garden Programs for Children and People of All Ages

Discovery Garden Park

Community Gardens like Discovery Garden Park in Norcross, Georgia are open to the public so people of all ages can explore, play and learn about the natural world around us. A variety of gardeners reserve and maintain raised beds year-round at Discovery Garden Park. Regular activities are organized in this beautiful community garden including ice cream socials, activities for Home School organizations, regular gatherings for adults with special needs, as well as events and volunteer opportunities for students from local public schools.

If you offer programs that help children grow I’d love to hear about them, I may even blog about you! Please write to me here , introduce yourself, and tell me about your activities or organization.

Farmers Markets Provide Great Opportunities for Learning

Everyone can enjoy browsing at Farmers Markets and learn about fresh, locally grown food. Children and their parents can meet farmers, see (and often sample) colorful varieties of the freshest and most nutritious fruits and vegetables, then purchase and bring them home to try. Many markets include cooking demonstrations and opportunities to celebrate and taste locally grown, fresh foods.

Help Make a Cultural Shift

Whether you are able to start your own garden, participate in local programs like those described here, or frequent farmers markets there are many opportunities to help the next generation learn and grow. My plan is to continue gardening and cooking with my granddaughter and producing videos like these to share and encourage others to dig in, have fun and learn to grow well, eat well, and live well.

Many of the organizations mentioned in this article offer programs and volunteer opportunities for you and your family to engage and participate in promotion of the local food movement. I also hope you’ll subscribe and share the GardenZeal blog and videos with your friends and family.

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