Eating out of the garden is the simplest form of culinary delight. The students participating in The Young Gardeners Program in local Galveston Independent School District (GISD) schools are reaping the rewards of their school garden harvests.
The Young Gardeners Program (YGP) is a project of Galveston’s Own Farmers Market and the brain child of Nan Wilson, the Program Director. Wilson moved to Galveston Island to be with her family in 2015. An astounding number of children in our area have childhood obesity and diabetes, and many have only minimal access to healthy fruits and vegetables. Nan wanted to change things for children and adults on the island. After some thought and lots of conversations, Wilson believed she could help by exposing children to gardening and eating healthy at local schools.
One of the many conversations she had was with the GISD After-School department, and resulted in a greenlight to begin a program that pushed into existing after-school sessions. She subsequently shared about her success with Casey McAuliffe, the Director of Galveston’s Own Farmers Market, and they began to plan for a roll-out of the project. In October of 2017 the Young Gardeners Program (YGP) began as a TOR after school program at Rosenberg Elementary (formerly Coastal Village Elementary). In 2018, Morgan Elementary, a Health, Medical Science and Engineering Magnet school, added the YGP to their afterschool program, as well as Galveston ISD’s Texas Aces after school program at Oppe Elementary.
Currently, YGP exists at three schools on the Island and at Crenshaw School on Bolivar Peninsula, and serves over one hundred students. The main difference between YGP and other gardening programs is the focus on production gardening and preparing food from the garden. Almost every week, students take home a pound of fresh produce and recipes so their families know how to prepare them.
There is nothing more rewarding than to witness kids enthusiastically eating straight out of the garden. Most kids at the beginning of the program say they would never eat broccoli, greens, or carrots. By the time the harvest comes in, students will stuff their mouth with anything they grow.
YGP promotes healthy eating by formally preparing the bounty from the garden every month. Students prepare simple recipes like and roasted broccoli and baked sweet potatoes with butter, salt, and pepper. All recipes are designed to be ultra-simple, having no more than four ingredients. The reason for the simplicity of the recipes is a matter of accessibility. If the recipes are simple, it is more likely the students will introduce those recipes to their families, more likely their busy caregivers will prepare them, and exponentially expands healthy eating habits from students at school to families at home.
People often wonder whether the kids actually eat what they cook. The answer is yes. The kids literally lick their plates and ask for more. The proof is in the pudding and it goes to show that kids will enthusiastically eat what they grow.