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Friday, April 1, 2011

A Taste of Spring: Garden Club and Farmers Market Build Health and Wellness Efforts at MCS

A welcome appearance during a rain-soaked month of March, the sun found a rare opening in the clouds on a recent Wednesday, spotlighting a scene of green unfolding on the Manzanita Community School (MCS) campus.

Garden Coordinator Louisa Hartigan and 1st-graders
studying in the garden
Out on the yard, the school garden's plants and flowers were lush after the rains, and nearby the Farmers Market – a weekly fixture every Wednesday – was loaded with fruits and vegetables and drawing a crowd.

(Note: You can click on the photos to see larger versions.)

In the MCS garden, AmeriCorps volunteer and Manzanita Garden Coordinator Louisa Hartigan was teaching 1st-graders in our "outdoor classroom." The class intently drew the garden's plants and flowers and observed the insects hovering around them while discussing pollination, seed dispersal, and other science concepts. (While this lesson featured art and science, the outdoor classroom also integrates math and English whenever possible.)

The hands-on, interactive garden learning "really challenges them to think in a way they're not always used to," says Hartigan. "It's exciting for them to learn about nature and the world around them."

Garden Club 1st-graders studying the parts of a flower
Mariah, a student in Christina Wells' 4th-grade class, has clearly absorbed the science concepts at work in the garden: "We get to learn about plants and fruits. I liked seeing the holes in the lemon leaf that the gases come in and out of -- the carbon dioxide and the oxygen."

The kids are also putting their green thumbs to practical use, in the kitchen. They recently assembled a salad of several lettuce varieties, herbs, spring onions, and edible flowers (nasturtium and calendula) – all straight from the garden. "Salad is not always a food that kids embrace," notes Hartigan, "but because they had grown the food themselves and prepared it together, they were excited about eating it."

Hartigan also introduced them to kale, a vegetable most kids were skeptical about until adding it to cheese quesadillas, a perennial favorite. "Adding an unfamiliar vegetable to a familiar and well-loved food helped de-mystify the kale," she says.
A Greener Garden!
As Hartigan puts, we have seen the garden "pull the school community together and build a sense of pride around the school grounds." In that spirit, we hosted a Comcast Cares Day on Saturday, April 30. Comcast provided breakfast and lunch and t-shirts for all volunteers. Thanks to all who made it out for this community-building event!
"What I like about the garden is that you can plant what you like to eat or see and you can cook what you like for dinner," says Juan, also in Wells' 4th-grade class.

Exposure to new foods from the garden has also led students to be more adventurous in sampling items from the salad bar at lunch. Overall, says Hartigan, the garden has been a springboard for the school's health and wellness initiatives. "By making things more familiar, we're helping them explore what makes up a healthy diet."
Support Manzanita Community School!
State cuts have put many of our wellness programs at risk, including the ever-popular Playworks fitness program (covered in our Fall 2009 newsletter). You can help! You can donate online here (be sure to choose "Manzanita Community School" in the Pick Your School pull-down) or by check to: "OSF/MCS," PO Box 20238, Oakland, CA 94620.

Students line up for fresh produce at the Farmers Market
Over at the Farmers Market, volunteer Haydee Jimenez was busy fielding orders from parents, students, and MCS neighbors. Now in its second year, the mostly-organic Market has become a regular stop for those seeking healthy, reasonably priced produce. "We have a lot of people from the outside community come in," says Jimenez. "They drive by on their way to the grocery store, and end up shopping here because we're organic and the prices are lower. We now have loyal customers who even place their orders ahead of time."

Ultimately, though, it's MCS students who benefit most from this weekly presence of produce. The school has officially become a "no-chip" campus, and Jimenez says the Market is indicative of a school-wide dedication to health and wellness, bolstered by the Garden Club and our Playworks program that promotes positive recess activity among students.

"We hear them say, 'Oh, we're eating organic, this is better than regular fruit!'" Jimenez says. "Many of them never ate organics until the Farmers Market came along. We're doing it to show kids there are healthy choices they can make."

Jimenez, who has two children attending MCS, shops for her own family at the Market. "My kids love it. They really look forward to Wednesdays."
Parents and community members shop at the Farmers Market

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