Citation
A healthy harvest

Material Information

Title:
A healthy harvest adolescents grow food and well-being with policy implications for education, health and community planning
Creator:
Pevec, Ilène Susan
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
xviii, 440 leaves : illustrations ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Gardening -- Therapeutic use -- United States ( lcsh )
Teenagers -- United States ( lcsh )
School gardens -- United States ( lcsh )
Gardening -- Therapeutic use ( fast )
School gardens ( fast )
Teenagers ( fast )
United States ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 393-411).
General Note:
College of Architecture and Planning
Statement of Responsibility:
by Illène Susan Pevec.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
779854622 ( OCLC )
ocn779854622
Classification:
LD1193.A735 2011d P49 ( lcc )

Full Text
A HEALTHY HARVEST: ADOLESCENTS GROW FOOD AND WELL-BEING
WITH POLICY IMPLICATIONS FOR EDUCATION,
HEALTH AND COMMUNITY PLANNING
by
Illene Susan Pevec
B.A., Marylhurst University, 1993
M.A., University of British Columbia, 2000
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Design and Planning
2011


2011 by Illene S. Pevec
All rights reserved.


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Illene Susan Pevec
has been approved
by
/P- ^/ II
Date
David Driskell




Pevec, Illene S. (Ph.D., Design and Planning)
A Healthy Harvest: Adolescents Grow Food and Well-Being with Policy Implications
for Education, Health and Community Planning
Thesis directed by Professor Willem Van Vliet and Professor Louise Chawla
ABSTRACT
The severe youth health crisis involving overweight and obesity requires a complex
policy response involving multiple domains: education, agriculture, health services,
and community planning. This research examines gardenings affective benefits for
adolescents and the potential school and youth gardens have to support healthy
communities. Gardening provides access to growing and eating fresh fruits and
vegetables as well as proximity to nature, opportunity for exercise, and time for self-
reflection. Ecological psychology and positive psychology provide theoretical
contexts to understand gardenings value for youth.
This four-year qualitative investigation in Colorado involved adolescents aged
fourteen to nineteen who garden in four youth gardening programs dedicated to
growing food organically. Three programs are at rural high schools, two public and
one private. A year-round urban after-school gardening program provides a summer
farming program that grows food for the local farmers market and homeless shelter.
Youth at all sites receive organic gardening instruction. Some study nutrition and/or
food systems.
Semi-structured interviews explored the sensory experiences each youth had while
gardening and their emotional responses. Each youth photographed a favorite place in
the garden. Participant observation while gardening stimulated relaxed conversations
and the opportunity to learn about each programs focus, dynamic and goals. Focus
groups at two public high school agricultural biology classes provided the opportunity
to explore gardenings value academically.
Results indicate overwhelmingly positive benefits for adolescents emotional
wellbeing. These young gardeners report feeling calm, happy, relaxed and competent
while gardening. They claim to eat more vegetables and gain greater environmental
awareness through the process. Almost all notice a greater capacity to concentrate
after gardening. They feel they are making a positive contribution to the Earth. Policy
makers establishing school ground use and setting curricular goals need to consider
the benefits school gardens can afford when integrated into curriculum. We need
further research to understand the quantity of gardening necessary to create these


benefits, and how school gardens impact the general school climate even for those not
gardening. Additionally, physiological research could identify specific health benefits
of gardening. Community planning research could explore school grounds use for
urban agriculture.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Willem Van Vliet
Louise Chawla


DEDICATION
I dedicate this dissertation to my parents, John D. and Arlette Ondine Lawyer,
and I thank them for their lifelong love and support. Thank you for always believing
in me and encouraging me to pursue whatever interests I have. You have both been
my inspiration to be a lifelong learner, to embrace lifes adventures and investigate its
beauty and meaning.
I also dedicate this to my children, Adriana, Lucien, Olivia, Zuleika and
Hamilton. You are my lifes harvest and bring enormous meaning and love to me.
May you each have the courage to pursue your dreams at whatever age they occur.
Thank you for sharing your lives with me.
And finally to my grandchildren, Ruthie, Isabella, AnaSofia, Aisha and
Wynne, and any yet to come, you are our future! To you I dedicate this work I have
done on behalf of all children.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I thank my co-advisers Willem Van Vliet and Louise Chawla for their guidance,
kindness, support, encouragement, advice, editing, and wise insight they gave me
throughout the doctoral program and thesis research and writing process. I am very
grateful for the philosophical guidance Louise offered me that led me to ecological
psychology and its meaning for my work. I thank Pamela Wridt for the wonderful
experience as her research assistant that helped me so much to learn the attention and
detail required for good qualitative research to happen. I thank David Driskell and
Samuel Dennis, Jr. for their time, excellent questions and guidance that helped lead
me to completion. I have been blessed with a superb committee! Thank you all!
I thank the University of Colorado Outreach Committee for their two grants that have
supported Peak and River High Schools with books and field trips for their nascent
horticulture programs and for providing me with some paid time that allowed me to
spend more time with the students in both schools.
I am extremely grateful to the young gardeners and their gardening teachers who have
so generously shared their time and insights with me. Without them this entire
endeavor would have been impossible. They are the soul of this work.
I also thank my colleague doctoral students for being such great company on this long
journey, and for helping me with computer software challenges whenever I yelped for
help. Debra Flanders-Cushing, in particular, has helped me innumerable times always
with such good cheer. Thanks Debbie!


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Figures.........................................................xvii
Tables.......................................................... xviii
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION.....................................................1
Introduction to the Researcher and this Studys Evolution.....1
Research Questions............................................6
Dissertation Structure........................................7
How the Research Garden Grew..................................8
Background Literature........................................10
School Garden Research Overview........................10
Access to Nature Overview..............................14
Adolescent Health Information..........................15
2. THEORETICAL CONTEXT..............................................18
Ecological Psychology........................................20
Positive Youth Development...................................25
Adolescent Development Tasks...........................25
Flourishing: Human Well-being Theory
28


3. CHILDRENS HEALTH IN THE UNITED STATES, THE
FOOD ENVIRONMENT AND SCHOOL GARDENS.............................33
Introduction: Childhood Obesity and Whats Created It...........34
Food Environment Sectors........................................37
Home: a Television Marketing Site for Junk Food..........41
National School Lunch Program: History and
Current Status...........................................45
School Lunches a la Big Business.........................48
Fast Foods Advertising Inside US Schools.................52
Interventions for healthier food and healthier people...........54
School Wellness Policies.................................54
Nutrition Education Programs: Philadelphia
Example..................................................56
Television and Media Control.............................60
School gardens past and present.................................61
The United States School Garden Army.....................62
Todays school gardens and relevant research.............66
Greened School Grounds and Physical
Activity Levels..........................................68


Spiritual Well-Being And Greened
School Grounds............................................71
The Edible School Yard and California School
Garden Policy.............................................75
Beyond the Edible School Yard....................................81
At-home and after-school gardens..........................86
Farm-to-School Programs...................................89
Conclusion.......................................................92
4. INTERVIEWING YOUTH: LISTENING AND LEARNING..........................100
Introduction....................................................100
Research Sites and Subjects.....................................106
Recruitment and Compensation of Youth Subjects..................109
Why Qualitative Methods.........................................112
A Conversation with Guidelines..................................114
Ethical Issues When Researching Youth...........................121
Interview Settings and Techniques...............................124
Power Differentials............................................126
My Stance as a Researcher.......................................131
Other Youth Garden Research Using Interviews
With Teens......................................................133
Analysis Approach...............................................135
x


Intercoder Reliability.........................................141
Validity Issues within Youth Interviews........................141
5. CULTIVA! AN URBAN YOUTH GARDENING PROGRAM.........................143
How Cultiva! Works.............................................146
Methods........................................................149
Developing Youth Leadership Capacity...........................150
Family Exposure to Gardening...................................155
Connecting to Nature and Beauty Through the Senses.............156
Feeling Caring, Calm, Relaxed and Peaceful.....................159
Service and Reciprocity........................................163
Environmental Awareness and Activism...........................164
Activities that Affect Students Similarly to Gardening........166
Ability to Focus...............................................170
Change in Eating Habits Due to Growing Food....................171
Recapping.....................................................174
6. THE VALLEY SCHOOL FINDINGS.........................................177
The Valley School program......................................179
Methods........................................................182
Prior family exposure to gardening.............................184
xi


Connecting to nature through the senses........................185
Feeling caring.................................................188
Feeling Calm, Relaxed and More Able to Focus...................189
Food Quality, Eating Habits And Pride In Accomplishment........192
Environmental awareness and activism...........................197
Outdoor experiential learning..................................199
Perceiving the world: The senses...............................201
Accomplishment: Comparisons To Sports And Art Activities.......202
Valley School Chorus...........................................205
7. TEEN MOTHERS GARDEN AT PEAK HIGH SCHOOL............................207
Peak High and the Gardening/ Horticultural Science Program.....209
Gardening as a Family Heritage.................................224
The Senses, Nature and Relaxation..............................226
Parallels in Caring for Their Children.........................228
Food Choices for Themselves and their Children.................229
Changes in Environmental Awareness and Activism................232
Empowerment and Change.........................................233
xii


8. RIVER HIGH SCHOOL RESEARCH FINDINGS: A NEW
AGRICULTURAL BIOLOGY PROGRAM GROWS FOOD FOR
THE SCHOOL SALAD BAR................................................236
The School and My Role There...................................237
The Agricultural Biology Class.................................244
My Research Within the Agricultural Biology Program.......250
Family Exposure to Gardening...................................254
Contact With and Connecting to Nature..........................259
Caring for the Earth: Reciprocity..............................261
Feeling Calm, Relaxed, Peaceful and Happy......................264
Hands-On Learning..............................................269
Working Together on Shared Goals...............................274
Making the World a Better Place by Growing Good Food...........277
Change in Capacity to Focus....................................283
Environmental Awareness and Activism...........................285
Knowledge, Accomplishment and Pride............................288
Other Activities that Make Produce Similar Affective Results...291
River High Review..............................................297
9. DISCUSSION: I FEEL MORE CONNECTED..............................300
Introduction to the Discussion...............................300
Topics Discussed and Emergent Themes.........................302
xiii


Positive Youth Development.......................................304
How Much Time do the Youth Garden?..............................310
Prior Exposure to Gardening Through Family Members..............313
Connecting to Nature Through the Senses..........................316
Capacity to Focus During and After Gardening....................320
Gardenings Impact on What Young Gardeners Eat..................326
Environmental Awareness..........................................332
Activities That Result in Similar Feelings as Gardening.........336
Collaboration and Accomplishment................................343
Positive Human Relationships.....................................346
Positive Emotions................................................348
Food Policy and Initiatives......................................352
Community Planning for Food Security and Good Health............355
What Can Brazil Teach Us about Food Sustainability?..............362
To Conclude......................................................365
10: LIMITATIONS AND IMPLICATIONS........................................366
Limitations in This Study........................................366
Positive Youth Development, Football and Research Implications...372
Policy Implications in Planning for Food and Health..............382
xiv


REFERENCES
393
APPENDIX A Interview Questions..................................................412
APPENDIX B Table 11.1 Composite Word Count for Gardeners........................417
APPENDIX C Encountering Skateboarder Gardeners..................................425
APPENDIX D Assent Form For Interviewees Under 18................................429
APPENDIX E Consent Form For Interviewees 18 and Over and Parents of
Under-18 Interviewees.............................................431
APPENDIX F Consent Form in Spanish for Parents of Youth Under 18................435
APPENDIX G Colorado Multiple Institutional Review Board
Certificate of Approval...........................................439
xv


LIST OF FIGURES
Figure
5.1 Google Earth view of Cultiva! Gardens.......................143
6.1 Valley School Squash (Photo by Rod).........................177
7.1 Greenhouse at Peak High (Photo by Katia)....................207
8.1 Dashs Hand and Greenhouse Soil (Photo by Dash).............236
xvi


LIST OF TABLES
Table
3.1 California state legislation establishing policy and funding for school
gardens.............................................................79
4.1 Interview questions.................................................103
4.2 Site and subject description........................................109
4.3 What each student and garden site receives for participation.......112
4.4 Frequency word count from Rose (16,f) Cultiva!.......................136
4.5 Matrix sample from Rose (16,f) Cultiva!..............................137
4.6 Domain analysis work sheet example, Basil (14,m) Cultiva!............138
4.7 Taxonomic analysis cover terms, Basil, (14,m) Cultiva!.............139
8.1 Student demographics (n=24) for interviewees..........................252
8.2 Students (n=24) prior gardening exposure............................254
8.3 Activities that give similar sensory feelings as gardening or make you
feel similarly: (n=24) (Some students mention more than
one activity.).......................................................297
9.1 Emergent themes at the four research garden sites...................304
9.2 Time spent gardening at each site...................................311
9.3 Youths prior exposure to gardening through family.................313
9.4 Youth self-assessed capacity to focus after gardening..............324
xvii


Table (Cont.)
9.5 Student self-reported change in eating habits
9.6 Student change in environmental awareness or attitude.............332
9.7 Activities that give similar feelings to gardening................337
9.8 Feelings reported in response to gardening........................346
10.1. National Football Injuries Sustained by High School students in
practice and competition 2009-2010 (Comstock, 2010)................369
xviii




CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
Introduction to the Researcher and this Studys Evolution
Since 1998 I have worked in and researched the benefits of school gardens
with youth three to nineteen, usually with at-risk child and youth populations. I have a
bias. Like many adults involved in helping to create youth gardens, I have seen
engagement with gardening benefit children and youth, and I actively work to
establish youth gardens. Forty years ago I ran a summer pre-school entirely in the out
of doors for two years due to my own early childhood experiences in the Colorado
mountains showing me that nature is a wonderful place to be to discover lifes vast
diversity and beauty. Not everyone has rivers and forests in their immediate
surroundings, but usually there is land somewhere nearby, even in cities, where a
garden can be made. Schools almost always have land around them. In this research, I
will examine the evidence for and against my assumption that gardening has many
potential benefits for youth.
I believe that children who live in an urbanizing world need more, not less
access to nature. When asked what they need in their communities around the world,
children most frequently respond with a request for more parks with natural features
(Chawla, 2002). Without evidence policy makers and school decision makers wont
realize how important it is to design schools and towns with gardens where people
l


can interact with nature for well being. However, my bias does not mean I am willing
to see only what I wish it see.
I remember my grandmother teaching me the first flower name I learned
when I was perhaps three. We stooped together on the driveway looking at what
grew beside it, and she held up the tiny flower on its short stem to show me the
blossom. This is Johnny Jump Up, said Grandma as she pointed out the little
flower face to me. My mother taught me to plant sweet peas by our back fence. My
father taught me to plant com and carrots, and to boil the water first, then go out and
pick the com so it went from the stock to the pot. An element 1 explored with my
interviewees in this study was prior exposure to family gardening experiences. I ask
the youth whether any of their family members garden and heard happy memories
of their grandparents quite often, sometimes how they gardened with their parents.
Many youth in this study have family members that have gardened or do garden.
Only a few engaged in gardening before joining the programs where I met them.
When I had children of my own I gardened with them, and I am grateful to see
that all five now garden too as adults. My five young granddaughters have planted
seeds and know how to transplant seedlings. 1 just gathered apples with one
granddaughter from her apple tree. While I was willing to gather the ones with tiny
worm holes, she wanted only the perfect ones.
Gardening at schools came to me unplanned. The year I turned fifty I decided
2


to go to graduate school to do something to address the enormous social inequity I
witnessed in the public school system in and around Vancouver, BC, Canada. The
poorer parents didnt have the business connections to get donations or the ability to
write grants, and so the children who most needed enriched environments at school
didnt have them. I also wanted to study creativity, particularly to understand that
spark that inspires scientists and artists to discover and present things in new ways.
A month before my studies began I attended a Society for Values in Higher
Education conference and met a woman who changed my life. Anna Wasecha
founded Farm in the City, a horticulture and fine arts program for inner city children
in St. Paul, Minnesota. When she described the ways she used horticulture wedded to
art activities to engage children in discovery of the world through science, art,
cooking and fun her words rang inside me like tinkling bells. I knew that I had found
my path. I would make gardens with children and study what happened to the
children and me as we planned, dug, planted and harvested.
I found a landscape architecture student at UBC, Tracy Penner, to join me in
working with Grandview/Uuquinakuh Elementary School in inner city Vancouver to
create the Spirit of Nature Gardens (the name was chosen by the children). First
Nations and refugee families and the children at the elementary and pre-school
became co-designers and gardeners in an action research project that created multiple
gardens and public arts projects and earned for me my Masters degree in curriculum
3


studies.
In our participatory planning process with the entire community many adults
wanted a community garden, and though we did not think the school board would
approve it on school grounds, they did. We got funding for it from the Mennonite
th
Central Committee of Canada. They had established a fund on the 500
anniversary of Columbus arrival to the new world to support urban community
gardens for First Nations people as a way of asking forgiveness for the land taken
from them by European settlers. The Mennonites did not just give money to establish
the garden; they came and participated in building the garden boxes. They involved
their youth job-training program Green Team in building our garden bridge over a
drainage swale. Thus began my experience with a multi-age community gardening
together on school grounds. This changed the way I saw school land and gardening to
realize it was much more comprehensive than I had ever imagined in its potential to
grow health and community.
One day as I was riding my bike to the school for a planting activity with the
children I was thinking about my trajectory from my birthplace in Brazil to the
Colorado mountains where I lived as a little girl to Denver to Vancouver, and I
realized that doing this gardening project in a neighborhood plagued with drug traffic,
prostitution and many other social ills was my way of healing the tear in my own
heart from leaving the mountains when I was seven. My own relationship to nature,
4


my deep personal understanding of how important an intimate connection to nature
was for my well being could be expressed by making it possible for other children to
have gardens to explore and inhabit in that urban neighborhood
My interests encompass experiential learning, holistic health, and
participatory planning. I make an effort to develop transformative educational
opportunities, learning situations that present something new that actually changes the
person engaging with it (Dirkx, 2009). Gardens work both directions with
transformation: they allow a gardener to transform the environment and grow through
the process. Both can become lush and diverse.
My research explores how the gardening process transforms the gardener.
Francis (1990) qualitative research enters this transcendent realm when he explores
the meaning of personal gardens for middle aged and senior gardeners in Norway and
California. These peoples heartfelt responses regarding the meaning they find in
home gardens inspired me to explore qualitatively adolescents gardening
experiences. Francis identified common themes from the 98 adult gardeners he
interviewed in Norway and California: the garden as a place to be; a place to care for
growing things; a place to control; a place to exert creativity; a place that reflects
personality; a place of freedom; a place for productive work; a place to own; a place
that develops over time; a place of retreat (Francis, 1990, p. 206).
What will be the same and what will be different for youth? The young people
5


do not own or control the public spaces in which they garden. In their teen years,
adolescents engage in one of lifes major developmental tasks, identity formation
(Erikson, 1968). In this process youth embrace ideals and seek leadership. Identity
building can result in volatile feelings as youth seek to understand changing feelings
(Ibid.). A garden with a gardening mentor offers a safe environment for the self-
discovery that goes on at this life stage. Knowing how gardening affects young
peoples feelings could help school ground policy makers and designers consider a
gardens role in supporting positive youth development. It could help health
professionals understand the role gardens can play in well-being. It could help
planners consider how to best use land appropriated to schools for the communitys
health.
Research Questions
What sensory and emotional experiences do youth experience while
gardening?
What do these experiences mean to them?
What outcomes do youth report as a result of these experiences, including
outcomes related to their feelings for the environment, their eating habits, and
their ability to focus?
How do youth gardening programs impact youth development?
6


Dissertation Structure
In this section I will describe my dissertation structure. Following that I will
describe the evolution of this research project. I will introduce you briefly to the
existing literature on school gardens and exposure to nature research and how my
research will add new knowledge. A brief overview of adolescent health in Colorado
concludes the chapter to better understand what the current mental and physical
health situation is for youth in the state where I did this research.
Chapter 2, Theoretical Context, will describe the theories in ecological
psychology, positive youth development, education, and positive psychology in
which I will frame the discussion concerning what the young people reveal about
their gardening experiences and how they affect them.
Chapter 3, the literature review provides an interdisciplinary, comprehensive
view of research relevant to the United States food environment in which children
and youth live today, and the role school gardens play as an intervention to support
learning and good health.
Chapter 4, Methods, describes the qualitative techniques I used to solicit data:
open ended interviews with youth and the adults working with them, participant
observation, and photographs by the youth at all sites and focus groups at one site
where the most youth participate, River High. I will discuss my analysis procedures
which transformed also as I went through 52 interviews.
7


Chapters 5 to 8 present the findings, each chapter dedicated to one
research site, as each site has a unique set of goals and ways of engaging the
young gardeners. Chapter 5 presents Cultiva!, Chapter 6, Valley School, Chapter
7, Peak High and Chapter 8, River High.
Chapter 9, Discussion: I Feel More Connected, will discuss the common
themes that emerged and present them within the theoretical context described above.
Chapter 10, Implications, will turn to policy and what role planning policy
can play in providing physical space for youth gardens and integrating them into
broader community food security plans and the role educational policy can plan in
integrating school gardens with curriculum and health promotion.
How the Research Garden Grew
My research has developed organically from my past experience for my
masters degree and a doctoral class research assignment that I did in 2006.1 had the
good fortune to find my way to high school students through a Children, Youth, and
Environment Center for Research and Design project with students attending a public
charter school for youth with emotional and academic special needs. Some of these
students were only one step removed from incarceration. That experience of working
with very challenged youth to create a garden and meld it with math, science and art
showed me that even when children and youth are considered ill behaved and
traumatized, when they can work together outside making a garden, planting what
8


they choose to plant, they literally transform in front of ones eyes to hard working,
cooperative and eager youth.
Unfortunately internal politics at that school made it impossible for me to
continue working with those students or do any continued research there, but those
young people with many internal and external conflicts who collaborated to build a
70 foot long garden frame and expressed their happiness to me from that experience
and from gardening showed me that investigating what made gardening seemingly
transformative was worth my time to study.
1 obtained IRB approval the following fall to begin doing research at a
Boulder youth garden to fulfill a course requirement, and kept the IRB updated
through the winter of 2011 as I expanded that study. I included three more sites in
two rural mountain towns, Riverdale, with two schools, River High and Valley
School, and Canyon Edge where the alternative high school, Peak, has a new
greenhouse and a new program in horticulture for the areas teen mother program. I
have interviewed a total of 52 gardening youth. I have been actively researching and
examining my results for five years, which gives me the advantage of a larger sample
population than many qualitative studies. Chapter 4 describes the methods and sites
with greater detail in the four findings chapters.
9


Background Literature
School Garden Research Overview
Health concerns for childhood nutrition and academic enrichment provide a
big impetus for school gardens nationally and internationally. I am very concerned
with both health and learning, and creating enriched learning environments that
promote youth health has been a major impetus for me in my work. I am focusing
primarily on the gardens potential to grow psychological good health in this
research, for I shall show in the studies done to date that very little attention has been
paid previously to youths feelings and mental health in school garden research.
A review of youth garden-based research studies found that the majority (85%)
studied elementary school children (Phibbs & Relf, 2005). These reviewers identified
21 people doing youth garden research. Seventeen received surveys, which thirteen
returned. (76% response rate). The most commonly researched topics were health or
nutrition (69%), environmental education (46%), self-esteem and self-concept (30%),
academic achievement (23%) and life skills (23%). The researchers surveyed cited a
challenge in obtaining and keeping enough respondents to do long-term research with
children at school gardens and a difficulty in identifying and testing appropriate
instruments to use.
A look at the subheadings of more recent school garden literature reviews
shows common themes (Ozer, 2006). We have nutrition and exercise, school
bonding and attachment, academic performance, conservation and ecological
10


commitment, parent involvement, and school-community relationships. Blairs
(2009) headings read broadening childrens experience of ecosystem complexity,
place-based culture clarifies the nature and culture continuum, vegetable
gardening teaches food systems ecology, and exposure to nature and gardening in
childhood shapes adult attitudes and environmental values.
Research on school gardens usually embraces two or more themes for
investigation. My research falls into self esteem and self concept, life skills, and
nutrition and exercise. All but one of the research sites teaches directly or indirectly
food system ecology and that enters our conversations also when I ask them if their
food choices have changed as a result of gardening. I also investigate conservation
and ecological commitment by asking the youth if engaging in gardening has
changed their environmental awareness and attitudes and if so, how. I ask if they are
more likely to be environmental activists because of becoming gardeners in youth
programs. I am well aware of the research that shows that an adult mentor to children
in natural settings activities positively impacts adult environmental attitudes (Chawla,
1999) and trust that by asking youth at a time that their environmental views are
forming, my research will add some valuable knowledge regarding how youth
develop a commitment to restore and protect the environment.
From observing my four research sites and attending many youth garden
conferences I know that most youth gardens have adult mentorship as an important,
11


vital component. I do not directly ask the youth about their relationships with their
garden mentors, but I observe them in situ and reflect on what 1 see when I discuss
positive youth development settings in Chapter 9, the discussion chapter.
The only school grounds literature review I encountered that directly discusses
mental health in relation to greened school grounds comes from Canada (Bell &
Dyment, 2008) and primarily cites the same literature I site in the section in the
literature review that I call Access to Nature Benefits. It does not reveal any actual
mental health studies regarding greened schools grounds.
Bell and Dyment (2008) frame school grounds as places for health
promotion. School grounds, including their design and physical features, the rules
that govern them, their role in school and community life, and the types of play and
social interactions that they invite and support, become a site of purposeful
intervention for promoting health (Ibid, p. 78). An Australian study surveyed
primary school principals and teachers about the potential school grounds have for
promoting mental health, but did no actual research regarding mental health related to
greened school grounds (Mailer & Townsend, 2005). An extensive study at the Edible
tb
School Yard in Berkeley showed improved behavior in the 6 graders who garden as
well as better science scores and more compassion for all living things compared to a
control school with the same science curricula but no garden or kitchens for youth to
prepare food (Murphy 2003). One could extrapolate that better behavior and more
12


compassion are both signs of better mental health.
A mixed methods study (surveys and interviews with adults) at Toronto
schools, where the school district is systematically greening school grounds for more
diverse play environments, shows that these greener play spaces, mostly at
elementary and middle schools, promote more social inclusion. This finding hints at a
change in students feelings. Study participants reported that when students were
learning and playing on a green school ground, they were being more civil (72%),
communicating more effectively (63%) and were being more cooperative (69%).
These improvements were noted not only among students; interactions between
students and teachers were also enhanced (69%) (Dyment & Bell, 2006).
I do not have a quantitative or experimental design to measure students
physical or mental health to see if there is a measurable change in either from
gardening, but I do question the young gardeners about how gardening affects their
feelings and their eating habits. This focus on feelings is unique to my study, and no
one has examined high school gardeners eating habits as impacted by engagement
with school gardens. Again I do not have an experimental design that actually
measures students nutritional intake before and after they engage in gardening
programs but I ask them about their eating habits and whether gardening
collaboratively has impacted their food choices.
13


Access to Nature Literature
Growing food gives students time outside in nature during the school day. We
ourselves are part of nature, not part of a remote control or computer despite the
thumb dexterity that modem communication tools develop in youth. The biophilia
hypothesis proposes that we humans have an innate kinship with the natural world
that is hard wired into our genetic development (Wilson, 1984). Nature exposure
benefits have been studied quite extensively with adults and, to some extent, with
children and youth. Recent medical research in Japan shows that simply walking in a
forest increases the human immune system response significantly, and that this has
lasting beneficial effects (Li, 2010; Li et al., 2008). Children and youth thrive in
daylight, like plants. Schools with higher levels of natural daylight in classrooms have
15 to 23% higher performing students (Heschong, Wright, & Okura, 2002).
Environmental psychologists have been able to measure in multiple instances
attention restoration for adults when exposed to natural environments (Hartig, Kaiser,
& Bowler, 2001; Hartig, Mang, & Evans, 1991; Kaplan, 2001; Kaplan & Kaplan,
1989). Views of trees and shrubs from a homes window lowers incidence of violence
in those homes (Kuo, 2004; Kuo & Sullivan, 2001a, 2001b). Green views help
adults and children to recover from lifes stresses (Kaplan, 2001; Wells, 2000; Wells
& Evans, 2003). Children play more creatively and with more conversation if their
play areas have greenery (Taylor, Wiley, Kuo, & Sullivan, 1998). Children with
14


Attention Deficit Disorder show greater capacity to pay attention to school work and
other tasks and behave better after playing in parks and other areas that provided
access to natures greenery (NIMH, 2008; Taylor & Kuo, 2008; Taylor, Kuo, &
Sullivan, 2001).
Though attention restoration has not been studied specifically in relation to
school gardens, we can assume that results may be similar to these other attention
restoration studies that take place in parks or natural forests if the school grounds
offer a diverse natural area with trees, shrubs and plants. The cited studies do not
examine youths feelings post exposure to nature but rather their cognitive
functioning. Similarly, playing outside for recess helps children to focus better when
they return to class (Pellegrini, Huberty, & Jones, 1995). I will discuss this research
relevant to mine to a greater extent in the Discussion chapter.
Adolescent Health Information
To understand what role gardens might play in creating health benefits for
youth we need to understand something about the health teens have today.
Adolescence, that transition period from childhood to adulthood, primarily the teen
years, holds remarkable transformation in body, mind and emotions for all
experiencing it. Adolescents developing brains, coupled with hormonal changes,
make them more prone to depression and more likely to engage in risky and thrill-
seeking behavior than either younger children or adults (Swarz, 2009, p. 1).
15


A house to house survey with 9282 adults eighteen and older revealed an
estimated 42.6% lifetime likelihood of developing a mental health disorder involving
mood, anxiety, impulse control or substance abuse. (Kessler et al., 2005).
Diagnosable mental health disorders present in approximately 20% of adolescents,
and it is common for a first anxiety, mood, or impulse control problem to occur
during adolescence (Ibid.).
I did this research in Colorado. A 2009 Colorado Department of Public Health
and Environment Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered to 1,511 students in 36
Colorado public high schools and considered representative of all Colorado youth
found that 24% of 9th, 10th and 11th grade students and 28.5% of 12th grade students
felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that they
stopped doing some usual activities during the past 12 months (Colorado Deparment
of Public Health and Environment, 2009, p. 3).. Kessler and colleagues (2005)
recommend that preventative and early treatment interventions need to target youth.
Seventy percent of youth in state criminal justice systems suffer from mental health
disorders with 20% of them so serious that the youths functioning is severely
impaired (Skowyra & Cocozza, 2006).
We also have a physical health crisis affecting youth in the United States. In
2008 30% of American youth were overweight and 15% classified as obese (Wang,
2008). Colorados 2009 overweight and obese statistics are lower than the national
th
average with 11.1% of high school students considered overweight (between the 85
16


th th
and 95 percentile for body mass index) and 7.1 % obese (over 95 percentile for
body mass index) (Colorado Deparment of Public Health and Environment, 2009).
Given the high number of high school students reporting health compromising
behaviors in the month before the survey such as smoking one of more cigarettes
(17.7%), alcohol use (40.8%), riding in a car with a driver who has been drinking
(24.6%), carrying a weapon to school (5.5%), fighting physically with someone
(32%) smoking marijuana (24.8), and in the last three months having sexual
intercourse (27.4%) (Ibid.), the potential for ill health amongst Colorado youth
appears very high.
What possible effect could gardens have on adolescents in this challenging
mental and physical health environment with so many opportunities for poor health
choices? This study will describe what opportunities gardens provide youth for
healthy development and how the youth respond.
17


CHAPTER 2: THEORETICAL CONTEXT
The real remedy is to make nature study a study of nature, notof
fragments made meaningless through complete removal fromthe
situations in which they are produced and in which they operate. When
nature is treated as a whole, like the earth in its relations, its
phenomena fall into their natural relations ofsympathy and association
with human life. (Dewey, 1922, p. 250)
Philosophically, I have been influenced by John Dewey since I was 19 and
visited the Escola Parque Centro Carneiro Ribeiro, in Salvador, Bahia, a public
school developed for some of Salvadors poorest children who lived near the school
in shacks made from cardboard, tin and other castaway items. Anisio Teixeira, the
schools creator, had John Dewey as his advisor at Columbia. The School Park was
totally unique in Brazil, and Teixeiras blueprint for changing the Brazilian
educational environment. It certainly carried the philosophical influence of Dewey.
(Sadly, Teixeira was not able to duplicate this school across Brazil before his
untimely death.)
Set in a park environment, the school provided a theater, visual arts building,
practical skills workshops, a gymnasium, track and sports fields and classrooms for
academic subjects. The children not only learned the basics of primary education, for
Brazil only guaranteed a primary education in 1967 when I visited the school, but
they published a school newspaper, ran a radio station and a bank their parents could
use, learned skills like tailoring, book binding and shoe repair, and had a choir that I
heard perform to my total delight. Their works of art were stunningly beautiful and
18


were auctioned in the city center to raise money to keep the school going. The young
childrens dark eyes were so filled with light, their smiles so brilliant, their work so
impressive, including the articles they wrote on the need for democracy in Brazil, that
I never forgot my day with them, and it has influenced everything I have done in
education since. Oddly enough, though the School Park had lovely grounds, I dont
recall seeing a garden tended by the children, but I never asked. However, the name
School Park embodied the goal of a healthy environment for children to leam as
they played and worked within their environment.
A garden grows many questions by its nature as a living, complex set of
interdependent organisms including the human beings who tend it. This dissertation
research is place based: the place, gardens, and the subjects the people tending the
four gardens I studied. If we imagine the relevant literature and theory domains as
garden elements, they are the trellises that allow the knowledge gleaned to climb into
the light. The literature review covers public health, medias effect on youth food
choices, food policy including the National School Lunch Program, planning and
design related to food, and school garden research. Together these all illuminate the
food environment that surrounds the youth I study.
In this theoretical section I have chosen to frame my inquiry by including the
social framework of positive youth development (Eccles et al., 1993; Larson, 2000),
the evolutionary theories of how humans view and interact with their environment
19


encompassed by ecological psychology (Gibson, 1979; James, 1912; Reed, 1996),
and the educational theories John Dewey proposed and practiced that led to
environmental education (Dennis & Knapp, 1997; Dewey, 1922, 1929; Reed, 1996). I
will also examine the youths experiences in positive psychologys construct for well-
being (Seligman, 2011). I shall discuss each of the above theoretical realms briefly
here to provide a structure in which to situate what the youth say in the four findings
chapters and in my concluding chapter.
Ecological psychology
When Darwin (1859) published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural
Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, theorizing
that living creatures adapt in response to their environments in order to thrive,
philosophers and nascent social scientists were slow to understand the implications
for explaining human behavior. William James pioneering work in psychology
shifted the focus of psychology to invite us to examine how people respond to and
function within their environments (Heft, 2011).
The theory of radical empiricism (James, 1912) shifts the emphasis from
rationalisms universal whole to the importance of the parts and direct experience.
To be radical, empiricism must neither admit into its constructions
any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them
any element that is directly experienced. For such a philosophy, the
relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced
relations, and any kind of relation must be accounted as 'real" as
anything else in the system. (Ibid., p. 42)
20


Just as ecology sees all the parts of an ecosystem, animate and inanimate, as parts of
an interdependent system, the ecological psychology that grew from James work
examines the interrelationship of the person having an experience with the elements
of the environment where the person is that are partners in that experience and how
those elements afford different possible experiences. A persons direct experience is
the focus of study (Reed, 1996). This is what Dewey called for in the opening
quote.
Gibson proposes that we perceive and relate to our environment through our
senses, that our senses seek information from what they perceive and we actively
make sense of this sensory information to form knowledge, understanding and
conscious awareness. One perceives the environment and co-perceives oneself.
(Gibson, 1979, p. 126). Since my research involves young peoples sensory
experiences, this dissertation fits well into this context that examines how we interact
with the environment directly using our senses.
Gibson invented the word affordance and the theory of affordances to
describe all that the environment makes possible for an animal, including humans, to
do. He takes the definition of the animals ecological niche, the particular place that
an animal occupies in a physical environment, and expands it. "A niche refers more to
how an animal lives than to where it lives. I suggest that a niche is a set of
affordances (Gibson, 1979, p. 128).
21


An affordance cuts across the dichotomy of subjective-objective and
helps us to understand its inadequacy. It is equally a fact of the
environment and a fact of behavior. It is both physical and psychical,
yet neither. An affordance points both ways, to the environment and to
the observer. (Gibson, p. 129)
This research explores and identifies the affordances students discover
through garden creating and their own personal responses to these affordances. A flat
piece of ground can provide many affordances to a variety of creatures, and these are
in accordance with their size and needs. A person can run, jump, roll, dance, dig. A
piece of flat land might have materials growing on it to provide building components
for a nest, a burrow or a house. A flower affords the opportunity to smell, to eat, to
pick and give as a gift.
Another important realm of ecological psychology is the concept of behavior
settings (Barker, 1968). It is noteworthy that both Gibson and Barker, whose
approaches are the two most explicitly ecological in psychology, arrived quite
independently at essentially the same conclusion: that the functionally significant
properties of the environment are perceived qualities that emerge from person-
environment relations. (Heft, 1988) Chawla (2007) and Heft (1988, 2011) cite
Barkers concept of the particular behaviors expected in certain settings as an
important way to view and analyze the human and environment relationship. A math
class has one set of rules for an adolescent interacting with the environment of
teacher, classmates, four walls, whiteboard, pencil and paper where the expected
behavior is primarily sitting and listening. A shopping center is an entirely different
22


behavior setting with entirely different restrictions and liberties for direct experience.
Barker explains that people perceive and conform to the expected behaviors that
different settings require and sees the optimum learning environment as one where
people can actively have some control and decision making authority over what
happens in the setting (Barker, 1968). What affordances and behavior settings exist
outdoors at most high schools? Mine had a football field, a baseball diamond, a lawn,
and trees for shade, but it did not have a garden. I could sit, walk, or run, but not turn
cartwheels on the lawn (because I had to wear a skirt to school), and I could not dig in
it. I could cheer at a football field, but I could not play football on it as we did not
have a girls team nor could I plant something in the middle of it. Viewed through the
lens of affordances and behavior settings, what could a garden provide for youth at a
high school?
Digging a hole to plant a tree affords a student some physical exercise and the
pleasure of accomplishment that both a big hole and a tree planted provide. The
behavior setting allows free body movement and some personal decision making
about which shovel to use, perhaps which tree to plant with what kind of soil
amendment. Planting seeds affords the imagination blossoming to visualize the future
seedlings sprouting, growing, and bearing fruit. The behavior setting may allow the
youth choice over which seeds to plant. A garden even affords a youth the
opportunity to witness death. Sometimes a seedling dies because the gardener forgot
to water it or it froze when temperatures fell. High school students discover many
23


ways to perceive, interact and behave within a garden as the findings chapters will
reveal.
James psychological and philosophical theories had much in common with
Deweys philosophical and educational theories. They were both pragmatists. Both
looked directly to lifes experience to understand lifes purpose and saw the
importance of engaging in and examining life, not just thinking about it.
The depreciation of action, of doing and making, has been cultivated
by philosophers.. ..They glorified their own office without doubt in
placing theory so much above practice... .Work has been onerous.... as
much of it as possible has been put upon slaves and serfs. Thus the
social dishonor in which this class was held was extended to the work
they do. (Dewey, 1929).
Dewey embodied this philosophy in educational theory and practice in the
laboratory school at the University of Chicago. He included carpentry, gardening and
cooking in the curriculum so that children gained the skills of everyday life and the
knowledge that comes from direct experience. Dewey became the father of hands-on
experiential education, the educational philosophy that guides these school gardens
Inspired by Dewey, Reed distinguishes between first hand and second hand
experience with ones environment (Reed, 1996). First hand is whatever the perceiver
receives directly through the senses with direct personal experience (the mode most
preferred) and second hand experience comes through the intermediary of someone
elses explanation such as through reading a book, listening to a lecture or watching a
film. As these youth in this study experience gardening education, they have both first
24


hand and second hand experience.
Positive Youth Development: Building the Soil That Grows the Garden
The natural processes that happen in a garden, the seed sprouting, a seedlings
reach for the light, roots stretching to find water and nutrients, the fruit maturing in
due time, all these mirror the development of a young person who also seeks to
discover and fulfill her potential within the context of the physical and cultural
environment. The broad psychological and social field called positive youth
development offers a lens to view the human experience of youth gardening together
in programs designed for youth to raise food, flowers and herbs. These four programs
were all developed to enable youth to grow in many personal and skill capacities, as
is any youth gardening program I have ever encountered. The following literature on
adolescent developmental tasks helps us understand how youth participation in
shaping school grounds and providing for community food needs can meet
participants developmental requirements. I will refer back to these in the Discussion
chapter to indicate how the youths experiences fits these developmental tasks,
because my research is not just about the individuals experiences but also about how
the programs they engage with support their healthy development
Adolescent Developmental Tasks
School forms a major part of the social context for most North American
adolescents since they spend about seven hours a day, five days a week, physically at
school. Not all young people thrive in this school milieu. Eccles et al. (1993) cite the
25


Office of Educational Research and Improvement statistics: Between 15% and 30%
of adolescents in the United States, depending on the ethnic group, drop out of school
before completing high school; adolescents have the highest arrest rate of any age
group; and an increasing number of adolescents consume alcohol and other drugs on
a regular basis (p. 90).
Eccles et al. argue that the changes adolescents experience beginning in early
adolescence do not fit well with the social environment of many schools where the
behavior setting and the restricting, tight rules with little room for choice conflict with
the growing need the adolescent has for autonomy. The warmth of a grade school
teacher-student relationship changes to a less personal one just at the time adolescents
need to have more personal support and caring from adults to help them as they find
their way through the turbulence brought on by puberty when they seek independence
of thought and action (Ibid). A teacher or adult mentor in the less formal environment
a garden affords at a school or after-school site can provide friendly guidance and
care to adolescents in this critical developmental period. The four findings chapters
describe the adult-youth relationships in the four garden study sites.
In subsequent research Eccles and Gootman (2002) focus on the quality of
engagement that youth have with shaping their environments. They conclude that
interaction with a setting matters, which concurs with ecological psychologys
premises (Barker, 1968; Gibson, 1979; Reed, 1996) already presented. Building on
26


this capacity for interaction, Larson (2000) analyzes initiative as a key factor for
positive youth development. Larson defines initiative as the ability to be motivated
from within to direct attention and effort toward a challenging goal (p. 170). This
coincides with Barkers (1968) suggestion that the most beneficial behavior settings
allow for some element of control by the actor in it so that each is a joint leader.
Intrinsic motivation, or the desire to be doing something and being invested in
it, needs to happen in concerted engagement in the environment (italics in the
original), with exertion of constructive attention in a field of action involving the
types of constraints, rules, challenge, and complexity that characterize external
reality (Larson, p. 172). One needs a real world setting where what one does has a
real outcome. It matters. The garden creating and tending process offers a setting for
intrinsic motivation to grow by giving the youth at the very least choices in what they
grow and sometimes in the daily gardening tasks each chooses to complete. They can
see the results of their efforts as the soil and plants respond and change. Some of the
sites studied involve youth in planning the crops and garden layout too.
Eccles and Gootman (2002, p. 90) cite conditions that support positive youth
development: physical and psychological safety, appropriate structure with clear
boundaries and expectations, supportive relationships, opportunities to belong,
positive social norms where clear behavior expectations for cooperation can be met.
In discussing the youths experiences in their collaborative gardens, I have been able
27


to gather evidence relative to these structural guidelines for positive youth
development.
At all but one site I studied, youth choose to participate in gardening by
signing up for the class or work activity. When youth choose to take the class or
participate in gardening over other choices, it has much in common with what Larson
calls structured voluntary activities where youth work with adults to accomplish
something youth want to do. In the Discussion chapter I will compare the motivation
of those who choose the gardening compared to those who do not. Larson (2000)
identifies voluntary activities as requiring concerted effort over time toward an
outcome (p. 174). Such activities, like sports and after school arts programs, have
higher intrinsic motivation for youth and higher concentration levels than
schoolwork, according to Larson (Ibid). The four findings chapters will provide
evidence that these essential elements for positive youth development exist in these
youth gardening programs studied.
Flourishing: Human Well-being Theory
Ecological psychology describes the relationship that people and the
environment have and the awareness people develop according to their interactions
with the environment. To understand the many personal feelings from these
interactions that the youth relate in their interviews, I turn to positive psychology.
When I had almost completed analyzing the youth interviews that form this
dissertations heart, I discovered Flourish (Seligman. 2011), a new book by a past
28


president of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Martin Seligman is a
founder of the positive psychology movement that dedicates its research to
discovering what makes people thrive. Seligman argues that his prior book and
theory, Authentic Happiness ('2002k had several holes he needed to mend with the
new book and this new construct of well-being,
He explains that happiness theory has three elements that we choose for their
own sakes: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning (Seligman, 2011, p. 11), but
that happiness per se, as an emotion in the way that modem culture defines it
generally as feeling good or merry, is too short lived to support a whole psychological
theory. He had not wanted to call his earlier book Authentic Happiness (2002). but his
publisher won the naming rights. Some people simply do not emotionally experience
what our modem society considers happiness all that much due to individual
personality, but do live very fulfilled lives. Seligman feels that real happiness has
much more in common with the rich life awareness Aristotle intended in his
definition of happiness as eudaimonia.
In his efforts to define happiness more broadly, Seligman discusses
eudaimonia as part and parcel of right action. It can only be had by activity
consonant with noble purpose (Seligman, 2002, p. 112). He also acknowledges
Aristotles enormous influence on our founding fathers, particularly Thomas
Jefferson, to give us our right to the pursuit of happiness, to encourage Americans
to live noble lives of virtue (Ibid.). To broaden the perspective of positive psychology
29


to well-being, Seligman added two more elements to complete the flourishing
construct: achievement and positive human relationships.
Positive emotion describes what we experience from pleasurable physical
sensations such as those from the five senses and life encounters: warmth, comfort,
ecstasy, and delight to name a few. Engagement relates to an absorption with what
one does, and is often described as flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997), that complete
concentration on a task whether it is making music, discovering a mathematical
theorem or writing. The person loses track of time and does not feel anything until the
task is completed or paused, and then experiences deep satisfaction, even elation from
this total focus. Meaning arises from serving something that is bigger than the self
(Seligman, 2011, p. 12). Humans have created many institutions that meet this need
such as Scouts, religion, politics, and the family.
One of Seligmans graduate students, a Harvard graduate and manager of a
successful hedge fund, pointed out to him that he had left out something very
important from his happiness theory and encouraged the process that has become the
flourishing construct. She explained It omits success and mastery. People try to
achieve just for winnings own sake (Ibid. p.10).
He realized that she was right, that people choose to pursue mastery and
success for their own sakes and not just for what they get. Scouts uses this desire in
people for mastery with the merit badge system, so that a child can pursue a personal
interest, demonstrate a pre-defined list of skills relevant to it, and then receive a merit
30


badge, which symbolizes what the Scout has mastered.
Interwoven with achievement is an engagement with the process it takes to get
to achievement, which is a characteristic of the flow state (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). It
is actually quite difficult to separate flow and achievement as flow requires some sort
of process towards mastery to occur. The journey through medical school perhaps
would qualify as a noble goal as the end result will be the capacity to save lives. If a
person goes to medical school only to be in a high paying profession, then in the view
of noble pursuits that would not count. Aristotles eudaimonia and Seligmans
achievements on behalf of the common good are elements for flourishing in life. In
the Discussion chapter I will explore achievement and engagement with more detail.
Flourishings final element, positive human relationships, forms the basis for
our most memorable life experiences such as a wedding, a birth, a death of someone
close to us, or a visit with a dear friend. One of Seligmans colleagues, Stephen Post,
tells a story to illustrate the importance to well-being of positive relationships. When
he was a child, if he was in a bad mood his mother would say to him, Stephen, you
are looking piqued. Why dont you go out and help someone? (Seligman, p. 20).
Seligman now routinely assigns this task to his students to do a kindness and has
them report back how being kind, ergo forming a positive human relationship, makes
them feel. Research has shown that doing something kind for someone else or
expressing gratitude makes the person doing this feel better not just briefly, but for a
month (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).
31


The well-being theory that Flourish describes has an acronym to make it easy
to remember: PERMA.
Positive emotion
Engagement
Positive Relationships
Meaning
Achievement
The experiences discussed by the young gardeners I interviewed fall into these
five categories of well-being. Their gardens will be discussed in the positive youth
development framework and their personal experiences in the flourishing framework
in the Reflections chapter. The insights we gain from the concept of garden
affordances and behavior settings will be an integral part of this discussion.
32


CHAPTER 3: CHILDRENS HEALTH IN THE UNITED STATES,
THE FOOD ENVIRONMENT AND SCHOOL GARDEN
To understand school gardens potential to create healthy food environments
for children we must look at the public context where they grow. We need to
understand federal policy in several realms, the private food industrys influence on
whats available to children, medias influence on what children want, and the way
schools outdoor and built environments influence childrens activity levels. Even
societys attitude to a childs purpose in the greater whole impacts the food
environment.
The United States Surgeon General announced (2001) that children today
may be the first to have shorter life spans than their parents due to obesity and related
diseases (Surgeon General, 2001). These diseases include orthopedic complications,
metabolic disturbances, type-2 diabetes, disrupted sleep patterns, impaired mobility,
skin problems and hypertension. Additionally, obese appearance can cause severe
psychosocial consequences: low self-esteem, social alienation, discrimination and, in
girls, depression. (Doak, Visscher, Renders, & Seidell, 2006). What has happened in
last several decades to so dramatically impact childrens health?
The first half of this chapter examines possible causes for this ill health
beginning with US food policies as they relate to childrens food environment. I show
33


how several Post-World-War-II developments including agribusiness, the National
School Lunch Program, television and the advertising industry all shape childrens
current food environment. I describe relevant research on several recent types of
interventions including school wellness policies, nutrition education, and limiting
media use. The chapters second half examines how fruit and vegetable consumption
can impact child health, and how school and after-school gardens can increase youth
fruit and vegetable consumption. My research interests lie in school gardens as
environments to promote healthy eating, dynamic learning and good physical and
mental health, and it is this literature I review. What kind of research do we lack to
thoroughly assess school gardens as interventions to improve childrens food
environment? What questions have not yet been asked regarding health benefits to
children and youth who engage in gardening?
Introduction: Childhood Obesity and Whats Created It
In the United States obesity rates have doubled for pre-schoolers and
adolescents in the last thirty years and tripled for children ages six to eleven
(Brownell & Horgen, 2004). In the period between 1999-2000 and 2003-2004 the
prevalence of overweight children increased 23%. In 2008 more than one third of
children ages 6 to 19 were overweight or obese obese (a body mass index (BMI) of
95% or higher) (Ogden, Carroll, Curtin, Lamb, & Flegal, 2010). Certain non-white
populations show greater risk, specifically Mexican-American children, both boys
34


and girls, and black female children (Brownell & Horgen, 2004;, Child Nutrition and
the School Setting, 2007; Levine, 2008; Ludwig, Peterson, & Gortmaker, 2001). The
US obesity-related disease health- care costs have tripled between 1979 and 1999
(Doak, Visscher, Renders, & Seidell, 2006).
Research indicates the world-wide weight increase comes from higher caloric
consumption and lower energy expenditure in all age groups (Brownell & Horgen,
2004). Lower consumption of vegetables and fruits and higher consumption of
carbohydrates and fats exacerbates expanding waist lines (Dennison, Rockwell, &
Baker, 1998; Newby, 2007). French-fried potatoes, the most commonly consumed
vegetable in the US, account for 17% of vegetable portions. US spending on fast food
has increased eighteen-fold since 1970 (Schlosser, 2001).In 2001 the Surgeon
General assembled panels of experts to develop a national action plan to combat
obesity, citing the risks for adults, children and youth (Brownell & Horgen, 2004;
Foster et al., 2008; Newby, 2007; Peterson & Fox, 2007; Thompson, 2001). Though
obesity has risen all over the world, this literature review focuses primarily on the
United States with some Canadian and European references.
Other aspects of the obesity equation are public policy in health, agriculture,
education and community planning. This social ecological view of health is relatively
new (Stokols, 1992) and provides a "theoretical framework for understanding the
dynamic interplay among persons, groups and their sociophysical mileus (Stokols,
35


1996) to design interventions that include the environment. The US puts high priority
on individual rights and responsibilities. This individualistic attitude affects the
American food environment and has made obesity an individual medical problem
rather than a public health issue (Schwartz & Brownell, 2007). The World Health
Organization (2008) has declared "Prevention [of overweight and obesity] is not just
the responsibility of individuals but also requires the structural change of societies"
(WHO, 2008,p. 240). Let us consider the possible structural changes necessary for
childrens food environment as we look at what currently exists, because ten years
after the surgeon generals initial efforts to lower obesity rates they have plateaued at
17% of US children and youth, but not dropped (Belluck, 2010). According to the
Disease Control Centers director of the nutrition, physical activity and nutrition
division, Dr. William H. Dietz, I dont think we have in place the kind of policy or
environmental changes needed to reverse this epidemic just yet (Ibid., p. A20). This
literature review exams the policies that have led to the situation we have now.
If US trends based on historical data for 1988-2008 continue, the
prevalence of obesity in US adults will increase from its present level
of about 32% to about 50% by 2030, with increased costs of up to
US$66 billion per year for treatment of obesity-associated diseases.
(W. H. Dietz, 201 l,p. 744)
36


Food Environment Sectors
Dramatic shifts in agribusiness and advertising post World War II have
shaped food consumption patterns to many processed foods rather than fresh food
(Brownell & Horgen, 2004; Pollan, 2008; J. B. Schor & Ford, 2007). The social and
economic factors involved in food production and consumption create a complex
matrix impacting health. Television advertising influences the food environment daily
inside childrens homes (Kaiser, 2007). Most research related to school gardens does
not mention media, but in this chapter I include research devoted to studying the
media content directed at children, because the media profoundly impact what
children eat and how they spend their time (Kaiser, 2005, 2007; Ludwig &
Gortmaker, 2004; Wiecha et al., 2006). I examine the National School Lunch
Program (NSLP) history, and how it and the other foods offered for sale and
advertised in schools reflect the impact of big business on federal policy and
influence childrens diets (Levine, 2008). I compare the differences in school food
policies in different states and districts, how these vary for different aged children,
and whether sensitivity to the nutrition of poorer children exists (Finkelstein, Hill, &
Whitaker, 2008).
This interconnection of policy, agribusiness, junk-food advertising, home, and
school programs in the North American childs food environment provides a context
to examine the potential of school gardens to improve the situation. Removing junk
37


food from schools requires policy changes, as do comprehensive health campaigns
that improve childrens diets and decrease weight gain (Ashe et al., 2007; Food-Trust,
2008; Foster et al., 2008; Newby, 2007; Schwartz & Brownell, 2007). School policy
can dedicate outdoor space and curriculum to hands-on learning in gardens and the
integration of food grown at school into school lunch as I will discuss later in this
chapter with the example of California. Land-use planning policy affects the food
environment as planning can include space for community gardens and walkways to
reach them and preserve agricultural lands (Ashe et al., 2007; Pothukuchi, 2004a).
The United States Senate and House agricultural committees write the
legislation determining which foods can be served in schools, how much direct
financial support will go to feeding children, which commodities will receive
subsidies and which farmers qualify for the subsidies. Over the last decade the Senate
committee, along with obesity experts and food service managers, called for
sweeping reforms to the list of foods allowed in schools (Brownell & Horgen, 2004;,
Child Nutrition and the School Setting, 2007). In 2004 the Child Nutrition
Reauthorization Act passed with a section in it to support Farm to School efforts and
school gardens, but Congress failed to appropriate funds for that specific section. The
Food Security Coalition, Slow Food USA and the Farm to School Network all
organized campaigns to encourage an increased dollar allocation to fund school
gardens and Farm to School to ensure funding for fresh food in school lunches
38


(Eschmeyer, 2009b). Finally, December 13, 2010, with bi-partisan support, President
Barack Obama signed S. 3307, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law
(Henderson, 2010).
This is the first time in fifteen years that food guidelines for schools have been
improved (Hellmich, 2011). In this new law, congress authorized an increase of $.06
per school meal to be paid to school districts that comply with the new nutrition
guidelines that are based on a foods based menu, as opposed to a nutrients based
guidelines that allowed schools to serve such things as donuts if they were fortified
with vitamins and minerals. (Schaible, 2011). This funding increase will bring the
total amount paid from $2.72 to $2.78 per child by the federal government for the
55% of children nationwide who meet the free lunch guidelines (New America
Foundation, 2011). The 10% who qualify for reduced price lunches pay $.40 per
lunch and the government pays the rest (Ibid.) For federal reimbursement the school
lunches must meet the new healthier guidelines: calorie minimum and maximum
limits, 50% whole grains in any grain based food, two vegetable servings, a fruit, 1%
fat milk and a protein with vegetarian options such as nuts or beans in each lunch
(Novak, 2011). For schools in high poverty areas there are federal grant funds
available for school gardens through the Child Nutrition Discretionary Grants, the
people's garden school pilot program (US Department of Agriculture, 2011). Whether
this improved funding will survive the upcoming budget cuts remains to be seen.
39


Some states and local school districts superseded federal policy because of
this long wait for improved guidelines and initiated bans of foods known to cause
obesity. California banned soda pop from schools and also funded school gardens
with state funds (Ozer, 2006b). Colorado banned soft drinks from schools in 2008 but
still allows sports drinks and low-calorie drinks to be sold in vending machines
(Engdahl, 2008). The State of Colorado does not fund school gardens with public
money except through the Learning Landscapes program at some Denver schools
with Denver bond money. The local bond paid for the initial garden planning and
creation, and then Slow Food stepped in with programming support (Brink & Yost).
Philadelphia banned soft drinks citywide as part of a larger comprehensive effort to
improve childhood nutrition. Philadelphias relevant research on healthy school food
initiatives appears later in this paper (Foster et al., 2008).
The Philadelphia school nutrition intervention just mentioned also banned all
junk-food advertising in schools. I will begin my description of the national food
environment children encounter daily with a look at media targeting youth as food
consumers. The food industry spends $30 billion attracting children to their high-
calorie, low-nutrient foods (Brownell & Horgen, 2004) while the federal government
allocates $8 billion dollars to feed children lunch at school (Ralston, Newman,
Clauson, Guthrie, & Buzby, 2008).
40


Home: A Television Marketing Site For Junk Food
In this section, I look not at who determines home menus, buys the
food and prepares it, but at television advertisings home invasion. Americans own
more televisions per person than any other nation, approximately one per person
(Kaiser, 2005). The Kaiser Family Foundation 2005 study on media use by children
used comprehensive surveys with families across America. It revealed that 42% of
families leave their televisions on most of the time. Sixty percent of families have
the television on while eating, and 27.5% of children ages 8 to 13 report watching
five hours a day of television, while the average for all children is 3 hours. The Kaiser
survey did not count time spent watching tv for homework or using computers for
homework, which would likely increase the total time spent sedentary, another major
factor in the obesity crisis.
Television viewing by children reflects race and economic factors.
Among eight to eighteen-year olds, white children watch an average of two hours
and forty-seven minutes of television a day. Hispanic children watch three hours and
fifty minutes, and black children watch four hours and forty minutes of television a
day (J. Schor, 2004). BET, the most popular station for African-American youth has
more food advertising on it than Disney or WB, the channels preferred by Anglo
children (Schlosser, 2001).
41


Cartoon shows for children show an advertisement approximately every five
minutes (Ludwig & Gortmaker, 2004). Food advertising to children has fewer
regulations to comply with than toy advertising (J. Schor, 2004). A 2007 study across
youths favorite ten channels discovered children ages 8-12 see an average of 21
food ads a day on TV, translating into more than 7,600 food ads, over 50 hours
(50:48 hr) annually. Teenagers ages 13-17 see on average 17 food ads a day on TV,
about 41 hours annually. Half (50%) of all ad time on childrens shows is for food
(Kaiser, 2007). Of these ads, 34% are for candy and snacks, 28% are for cereal, and
10% are for fast food. Only 4% are for dairy products, 1% for fruit juices, and none
are for fruits or vegetables (Kaiser, 2007).
The first national study linking obesity to television watching in children
appeared in 1985 (J. Dietz, W. H. & Gortmaker, 1985). Evidence shows a causal link
between television viewing and childhood obesity (J. Dietz, W. H. & Gortmaker,
1985; Steven Gortmaker, 2008; T. Robinson, 1999). In the 1950s, the early days of
television, children were not seen as a serious market to be targeted with ads. Now
they are. In 2004 McDonalds spent $528.8 billion globally for advertising, 40 percent
targeted to children (J. B. Schor & Ford, 2007). The fast-food and advertising
industry sees the child as a powerful consumer (Giroux, 2009; J. Schor, 2004).
Simply seeing after-school gardening programs for children in the light of this media
42


barrage makes them a powerful possible intervention just to get them away from the
television.
Contrast this level of marketing dollars for food high in fat and sugar calories
to marketing for health. At its peak, the 5-A-Day fruit-and-vegetable program from
the National Cancer Institute had a $2 million annual budget for promotion. This is
one-fifth the $10 million used annually to advertise Altoids mints. The Altoids budget
is tiny compared to $3 billion in 2001 for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo combined just for
the United States (Brownell & Horgen, 2004).
The unhealthy food products advertising climate for children has similarities
to big tobacco before protective legislation stopped tobaccos direct ads to youth.
Phillip Morris, the tobacco company, is the largest food conglomerate in the world
(Schor, 2004). Like tobacco companies that refused to admit publicly the health
dangers caused by their products until hit with litigation, the food industry knows
they are developing products that deliberately create unhealthy eating. Scientists with
Unilever and Nestle reportedly have studied how certain foods, such as chocolate
biscuits, burgers and snacks, make people binge-eat, thereby fueling obesity in order
to produce products people will crave even when these are not healthy products
(Schor, 2004, p. 125). Research shows that both animals and humans will choose
food high in sugar and fat when given the option (Brownell & Horgen, 2004).
43


Advertisers use psychological research to target children effectively, including
ads that show parents as the bad guys to be nagged into doing what the child wants,
for instance, buying junk food at the grocery store or fast food outlet (Schor, 2004).
Neither the junk-food industry nor the advertisers that work for them seem to
consider the lack of ethics in persuading kids to consume products that can harm
health. Advertisers deliver their messages to homes via TV, making home a
battleground for childrens product devotion versus their health.
Industry marketing via television has been shown to play a large role in
childrens health, both in terms of food choice (Brownell & Horgen, 2004; J B Schor,
2004;), quantity of food consumed (Jacobson 2005; Ludwig, Peterson, & Gortmaker,
2001; Wiecha JL et al., 2006), and amount of time spent being sedentary ( Brownell
& Horgen, 2004; Coon & Tucker, 2002; J. Dietz, W. H. & Gortmaker, 1985; Steven
Gortmaker, 2008). Time spent watching television, playing video games and using
computers has proved to be a primary factor in childhood weight gain (J. Dietz, W.
H. & Gortmaker, 1985; Steven Gortmaker, 2008; Ludwig & Gortmaker, 2004).
Children spend ten times more hours watching tv than in vigorous exercise (Ludwig
& Gortmaker, 2004).
The Institute of Medicine conducted an exhaustive study of research related to
children, television and eating habits and concluded Television advertising
influences the food preferences, purchase requests, and diets, at least of children
44


under age 12 years, and is associated with the increased rates of obesity among
children and youth (Kaiser,2007). If framed as a public-health issue, the
environment that creates obesity will be changed via regulation like tobacco and
seatbelts were (Schwartz & Brownell, 2007). One area of childrens food
environment that is regulated by policy has not proven itself to be positive: school
lunch. It is possible that if funds allocated to the new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act
are sufficient that the new school lunch guidelines may make a positive difference in
childrens food environment.
National School Lunch Program: History and Current Status
To understand school food, we need to examine its history. Who shaped it?
What roles do schools play in influencing a childs food choices? How has junk food
and marketing entered this public realm supposedly dedicated to child education and
welfare? What possible ways might schools mediate the food environment for
improved health outcomes?
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many children went hungry and
lacked adequate caloric intake to concentrate at school. Educators and nutritionists
lobbied the federal government to make a federal school lunch program available and
affordable in all schools. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) began in 1946
to provide hungry children with the nutrition necessary because World War II
exposed how undernourished many of the adolescents entering the Armed Forces
45


were (Levine, 2008). NSLPs more comprehensive intention was to guarantee a
market for certain surplus US agricultural commodities. The United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA) paid farmers for surplus foods (com, wheat, soy,
rice and milk to name only some) and fed them to the children in schools (Levine,
2008). The US government wedded hunger relief to farm subsidies during the
Depression and after the War, and created a system that supports the agribusiness
development that dominates US food production today. Private citizens pushed for
the well-being of the nations children, but the government chose to put industrial
agriculture first (Levine, 2008; Pollan, 2008). The USDA frames the child as a
consumer, primarily to eat excess commodities needing a market.
Today a majority of schools participate in the NSLP. More than three quarters
of U.S. schools offer a School Breakfast program as well. Over 28 million school
lunches were served in 2006 in over 101,000 schools (Ralston, Newman, Clauson,
Guthrie, & Buzby, 2008), and 9.4 million children ate a school-provided breakfast.
(Levine, 2008; Peterson & Fox, 2007). The U.S. delivers vast quantities of food to
schools through these programs, but has it guaranteed good nutrition? Despite the
existence of the NSLP, the food, poverty and good nutrition issue came to the fore
in the 1960s when it became clear that many children ate food, including meals at
school that did not support good health. Activists brought attention to the number of
children still going hungry in schools. The 1966 Child Nutrition Act promised free
46


lunches to the nations poor children. In 1968 at least six and a half million poor
children still lacked access to free lunch in poor urban and isolated rural areas
(Levine, 2008). This hunger level spurred action.
Five national womens groups united by concern for the nutrition of poor
children formed the Committee on School Lunch Participation (CSLP). They had
intended to focus on starting free lunch programs in their own communities but
quickly realized the problems national scope reflected a need for systemic change.
The CSLP did a comprehensive survey of the nations lunch programs directors,
school principals, parents and teachers. The CSLPs shocking report, Their Daily
Bread, reported widespread discrimination against poor children that included
separate lines, different meals and even uniforms required for those getting
assistance. Every state relied on childrens fees to provide up to 90 % of their
operating budgets. Fewer than four percent of children actually got free or reduced
price lunches. The CSLP showed there were no enforceable standards for financing
and distributing lunches. This ultimately forced a restructuring of the NSLP (Levine,
2008).
By the mid 1970s the nations school lunchrooms did serve more poor
children, and those percentages went from 40% of poor children getting free or
reduced price lunch in 1976 to 50% in 1986. But lunchrooms had become racially and
economically segregated. Fewer and fewer children bought lunch as the price for the
47


non-subsidized lunch steadily rose and quality suffered. States did not adequately
match federal expenditures. Private food corporations began entering the picture by
1969. Community activists even sought partnerships with private food purveyors,
thinking they might strengthen inner city job and business climates. Congressmen of
liberal and conservative leanings thought that privatization of school lunches might
solve the cost and delivery problems. Lack of government funding at state and federal
levels for a quality lunch program eventually opened the doors to McDonalds, Pizza
Hut, Taco Bell and their ilk into the U.S. public school lunchrooms (Levine, 2008).
School Lunches a la Big Business
Childrens exposure to poor nutrition inside public schools increased in 1972
when the National Soft Drink Association successfully achieved an amendment to the
School Lunch Authorization Bill to eliminate restrictions on competitive foods (those
foods not provided by the government) in schools (Levine, 2008). Schools began to
sign pouring contracts with schools giving certain companies such as Coke or Pepsi
exclusive rights to their students. Schools benefit by receiving not only revenue from
the vending machines, but also sports clothing and educational materials branded with
the company logos. These contracts allow large corporations to negatively impact
childrens health inside public schools nationwide (Brownell & Horgen, 2004;
Levine, 2008).
48


A twenty-ounce serving of Coke or Pepsi has 15 teaspoons of sugar. This
level of consumption of added sugar, other than what occurs naturally in foods in
their primary state, is double what the USDA recommends for health. Childrens
consumption of soft drinks has doubled in the past twenty years (Peterson & Fox,
2007). When one considers that soft drinks did not exist inside schools until the
1970s, it is not surprising that placing the drinks there along with company
advertising doubled childhood intake of these com syrup-sweetened beverages whose
consumption causes weight gain (Jacobson 2005; Ludwig, Peterson, & Gortmaker,
2001).
Several studies have shown that when people increase their consumption of
calories via sweetened drinks, they do not cut down their consumption of other foods.
An experiment in Denmark gave adult volunteer overweight subjects either sugar-
sweetened soft drinks or artificially sweetened soft drinks and instructed subjects to
eat freely otherwise. In ten weeks those with the sugared soft drinks had increased
their daily caloric intake by 500 to 700 calories per day and gained 3.5 pounds. Those
with non-caloric drinks had not increased their caloric intake and had lost two pounds
(Rabin, Vasilaras, Moller, & A, 2002).
A study of 548 children aged 11-12 years showed that sugared-drink
consumption was associated with a 60% increase in the risk of obesity (Newby,
2007). By caving in to the soft-drink lobby and allowing soft-drink vendors into
49


schools without requiring scientific evidence of how sugared drinks affect growing
children, Congress created a table laid for obesity ((Brownell & Horgen, 2004).
One Las Vegas school-lunch privatization effort beginning in 1972
exemplifies what happened nationwide. A local retired supermarket executive thought
he could turn around the 10% participation rate and $200,000 financial deficit of the
Las Vegas NSLP. He offered combo meals with super shakes. To meet nutrition
guidelines he counted the pickles and leaf of lettuce on his hamburgers as vegetables.
He used milk in his shakes, but also chemical and fat additives. A visiting journalist
noted that kids often did not buy the combo meal, but rather bought two cinnamon
buns and a Coke or four sugar cookies and a Sprite from the a la carte line with their
lunch money. Within one year the executive claimed 90% participation in NSLP and
a million dollar profit (Levine, 2008).
School systems across the country liked his bottom-line success without
considering the potential weight gain for students, and similar experiments took off
across the country. By 2000, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that
one in five schools participating in the NSLP had brand name fast food in their
lunchrooms. The minimal USDA nutrition requirement of the 1990s required no
more than 30 percent of calories from fat in a school lunch, but a mid-1990s study
showed that 38 percent of calories overall in school lunches came from fat, with 15
percent from saturated fat (Levine, 2008).
50


Do standards differ in schools serving different age groups? A 2005 survey of
395 US public schools in 129 school districts in 38 states found that vending
machines were in 17%, 82% and 97% of elementary, middle, and high schools,
respectively, and a la carte items (such as those from fast-food outlets) were sold in
71%, 92% and 93% of these schools, respectively (Finkelstein, Hill, & Whitaker,
2008). Why does this difference in school policy exist for different ages? These
researchers suggested federal and local district policy makers examine and implement
the healthier food choices offered young children to students in upper grades as well.
Presence of vending machines and a la carte competitive foods of poor
nutritional quality reflect policies in these schools that promote such consumption
(Finkelstein, Hill, & Whitaker, 2008). Schools sell these high calorie, low nutrient
foods to their students because they get a financial kick-back. Schools raise money to
meet their shortfalls, whether it is for school lunches or athletic uniforms, by selling
unhealthy food to their students (Brownell & Horgen, 2004). This indicates a large
hole in how legislators view the value of childrens health. Federal and state school
funding requires national, funded policy changes so that school lunch and adequate
athletic resources have the funding needed to support good health. A national study
including 287 schools and 2,228 children in grades 1 through 12 showed that serving
French fries or similar potato products more than once a week in the school lunch at
elementary schools resulted in a higher BMI (body mass index) for students, as did
51


desert more than once a week. Similarly at a middle schools, energy dense junk food
in vending machines near the school lunch line resulted in higher BMI (Fox, Dodd,
Wilson, & Gleason, 2009).
Fast Foods Advertising Inside US Schools
Aside from serving poor quality food, the fast food industry targets
students with its advertising inside schools as well as in their homes and public
spaces. In 1989, Channel One initiated a 10-minute news and 2 minute advertising
program in public schools. The news often concerns celebrities and the ads are for
fast foods. In return for promising a certain number of students as a captive audience,
schools receive in return the use of video monitors and classroom equipment. Once
again older children receive poorer treatment than elementary students. 12,000 middle
and secondary schools, one-fourth of the nations total, 8 million students in grades 6
through 12, 40% of all US teens, watch these programs on 90% of school days.
Schools are contractually bound to show these shows with students sitting at then-
desks with volume on (J. Schor, 2004).
Researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale
who study childrens toxic food environment suggest that there needs to be a social
movement to demand policy changes to protect childrens health (Schwartz &
Brownell, 2007). What will replace the money currently provided by the corporate
sponsors? The more than one hundred youth who attended the farm to school
52


conference this year in Portland already are working to demand more public money
for schools to ensure quality food for themselves and other young people.
At a 2007 United States Senate hearing on child nutrition and the
school setting, the chairman, Senator Harkin (D. Iowa), read a letter from the
National Heart Association and the National Stroke Association calling for national
standards based on modem scientific evidence regarding foods sold to children in
public schools. Senator Harkin read the list of currently allowed food in schools and
expressed confusion over what nutritional value these foods could have: imitation
fruit drinks, French fries, ice-cream bars, candy bars, cookies, chips, snack cakes, and
doughnuts were acceptable. He wondered why plain soda water was not allowed
while all these sugary foods were, and pointed out that the list was thirty years out-of-
date {Child Nutrition and the School Setting, 2007).
Testifying at the same Senate hearing was the president of the
American Beverage Association reporting on the voluntary agreement this
organization has made to remove high-calorie sugar soft drinks from school markets
under pressure from former President Clinton who has a self-admitted addiction to
soft drinks. Also present was Kelly Brownell, president and founder of the Rudd
Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, arguing strongly for mandated, not
voluntary, national nutrition standards (ChildNutrition and the School Setting, 2007).
53


Along with new, scientifically based national standards for foods in schools, what
else might improve childhood health?
Interventions Leading To Healthier Food And Healthier People
School Wellness Policies
Recent federal legislation required that all schools receiving federal
funding for school lunches develop local school wellness policies by the 2006-2007
academic year as one step towards combating child obesity. At the most basic every
school must have community involvement in planning goals for nutrition and
physical activities, nutrition guidelines that meet federal standards for reimbursable
school meals, and a plan for implementation of the wellness policy (Peterson & Fox,
2007). Recent testimony before the US Senate indicated that poorer schools without
an activist parent base simply downloaded sample School Wellness plans, added the
name of the school, and did nothing in relation to actually changing the nutritional
environment at their schools {Child Nutrition and the School Setting, 2007). No
oversight system helps schools to actually implement Wellness plans.
Raw fresh fruits and vegetables appear in federal school lunches in
only 60% of schools today, and they appear less often in schools where more children
get free and reduced-price school lunches. Despite greater known health risks to
certain minorities, schools with higher risk populations do not yet have better food
54


offerings to serve those most at risk. Schools with poorer populations also are the
same ones frequently lacking Wellness policies (Finkelstein, Hill, & Whitaker, 2008).
One of the major challenges in meshing school wellness policies with
the USDA commodities program is that many commodities supplied to schools for
inclusion in school lunches are high in the animal fats (hamburger crumbles, chicken
nuggets) that the school lunch program should not serve if it is to provide healthy
food for children (Levine, 2008). In addition, the agricultural commodities come from
a small percentage of farms, those that are the largest and known as agribusiness
(Brownell & Horgen, 2004; Pollan, 2008). A federal program that attempts to feed
children more healthily perhaps needs to consider policies to do so separate from its
convoluted relationship to agribusiness and the junk food purveyors that have invaded
schools at the invitation of school districts eager to balance their budgets. Elected
officials have been unwilling to gain disfavor with food industry voters by outright
junk food bans. A program designed to feed the poorest children of the nation for free
needs to feed them healthy food.
In an analysis that compared ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds
of students to school food environments, in the schools serving the most children
qualifying for free or reduced price lunch (185% of poverty level), less than one
fourth had a health advisory council, less than half had a wellness policy or used a
federal government fruit-and-vegetable program and more than half took part in a
55


pouring-rights contract giving a beverage company exclusive rights to sell to their
students in school vending machines (Finkelstein, Hill, & Whitaker, 2008).
However, the new federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program serving
fruits and vegetables for free to students in 375 schools in fourteen states and three
tribal reservations offers tangible hope. Senate testimony by the head of the Des
Moines, Iowa School District food services director indicated great popularity among
students and teachers for this program that introduces many children to their first
contact with fresh produce. The produce must be served at a separate snack time, not
in conjunction with lunch. To date funding has sent the program to only these pilot
schools, but those involved testified to multiple nutritional and learning benefits for
the children involved (Child Nutrition and the School Setting, 2007). Recent research
in the European Union shows that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables can
lead to weight loss (Rolls, Ello-Martin, & Tohill, 2004).
Nutrition Education Programs: Philadelphia Example
A large-scale approach to improving school nutrition has been implemented
very successfully in Philadelphia beginning in 2001 and has involved ten inner-city
public schools, a non-profit called The Food Trust, the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program of the
United States Department of Agriculture, the Temple Universitys Center for Obesity
Research and Education, and the Comprehensive School Nutrition Policy Initiative
56


Task Force (Food-Trust, 2008; Foster et al., 2008). This program developed
collaboratively with over forty groups and individuals addressed the school food
environment using guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control (Center
for Disease Control, 1996). It involved changing policy regarding foods offered in
Philadelphia schools. The number of partners and intervention components indicates
how comprehensive the response needs to be to create an environment for healthy
change.
These groups formed: the Committee on Nutrition Standards, the Committee
on Curriculum, the Committee on Family and Community Involvement and the
Research Team, reflecting the need for intervention at school, at home and in the
community for change to occur. These committees recommended that the school
nutrition policy needed to include: establishing school health/wellness councils;
completing the school health index and school health action plan; initiating social
marketing; ensuring that all foods meet nutrition standards outlined in the policy
decided on by the groups; integrating 50 hours of nutrition education every year into
classroom lessons; conducting 10 hours of teacher training; and involving family
members and the community (Food-Trust, 2008, p. 8).
This comprehensive approach ensured that all junk foods and junk food
advertising were removed from the target schools. All food available in the school
met the agreed guidelines to improve vegetable and fruit consumption and cut fat and
57


sugar consumption. Children were members of each school health council and
involved in planning activities that involved food and physical activity, and family
and community outreach. The teacher training proved to be very popular, and
research showed that the more hours teachers attended training sessions, the more
they integrated health and nutrition into their classroom activities. This
comprehensive approach resulted in the entire school district banning any unhealthy
beverages in Philadelphia schools as of July 1, 2004. Only water, 100% fruit juice
and low-fat milk can be sold in the district schools (Food Trust, 2008).
Outreach to parents included newsletters, in-school activities such as Back-to-
School events, parent education meetings and weekly nutrition workshops. To turn
around the media assault on childrens good health that happens in homes and
schools, the Food Trust in Philadelphia involved parents, teachers, kids and health
professionals all working together to plan a new food environment that included
educational food activities for all ages. This intervention framed children, teachers
and parents as the creators of the food environment rather than just as consumers
(Food Trust, 2008).
The medical research team investigated whether the Philadelphia school
health policy program intervention could prevent overweight and obesity in children.
Researchers weighed and measured 1349 students in grades four to six over a two-
year period in ten schools that had 50% or more children who qualified for free or
58


reduced price school lunches. The schools were matched for size and type of school
lunch service and randomly assigned to control or intervention. The intervention
resulted in a 50% reduction in the increase in overweight students in the intervention
schools compared to the control schools. After two years, only 7.5% of students in
intervention schools became overweight compared to 15% in control schools. Neither
obesity rates or weight loss rates were different in the two groups of schools (Foster
et al., 2008). The fact that such a large intervention did not result in any weight loss,
but only in a prevention of weight gain for a small percentage (7.5%) of students,
leads to many questions. There was no media-use reduction in this study. The study
did not describe whether actual physical activity time at school increased or the type
of physical activity promoted. No gardening was included.
Philadelphias comprehensive nutrition policy and its implementation with the help of
many players show that student health can be improved somewhat when school
policy bans junk food, serves healthy food, adds more physical activity and educates
teachers, students and parents about healthy living habits. A number of public and
private entities got involved to make this policy change to create a healthier school
food environment for children and provide a model that other communities could
follow, but the limited success seems alarming.
A medical literature review on obesity research discussed 25 interventions
targeting children five to nineteen; all had control groups and measured Body Mass
59


Index and/or skin folds pre and post intervention. They showed that 68%, 17 out of
25 interventions, were successful at limiting obesity increases in the intervention
populations (Doak, Visscher, Renders, & Seidell, 2006). They did not show any
actual weight reduction. The studies all had different lengths varying from twelve
weeks to two years, so it was not possible to do a true comparison of findings. Four
studies showed improvement in both BMI and skin folds. Two of those used reduced
TV watching and two used physical activity increase with nutrition education.
However, many of the studies that did not show health improvements for participants
had physical activity components and nutrition education, and without knowing the
actual program content and the competency of the teachers to deliver the program to
students, it is impossible to determine why some interventions failed while others,
very similar in description, worked. School gardens did not appear in the intervention
descriptions.
Television and Media Control
A New Zealand study examining television habits from birth to age 26 has
shown that television viewing in childhood is associated with increased body-mass
index, higher serum cholesterol, lower cardiopulmonary fitness, and cigarette
smoking in adulthood (Hancox, Milne, & Poulton, 2004). An 18-month medical
study has quantified snack food consumed by 548 Boston- area eleven-year-old
children who eat while watching TV at 167 extra calories per hour (Wiecha et al.,
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2006). Other studies indicate that reducing television and video viewing along with
providing health education for children reduces obesity (J. Dietz, W. H. &
Gortmaker, 1985; Steven Gortmaker, 2008; Ludwig & Gortmaker, 2004; T.
Robinson, 1999). Reducing television time serves to remove more junk food
advertisements from a childs life, limit sedentary time and the accompanying
snacking, limit the number of meals eaten in front of a TV and provide more time for
more physical activity to take place if the child chooses (Robinson, 1999).
These medical experiments regarding television control as a weight-loss
intervention occurred within schools matched for socio-economic factors. Media use,
a common denominator in US daily life, adds another knowledge layer that needs to
be considered in designing food-environment interventions and research concerning
them. Media use is not mentioned in school-gardening research, but is in some after-
school gardening programs (Lautenschlager & Smith, 2007) Limiting TV removes a
detrimental factor from the food environment. School gardens and Farm to School
programs increase access to healthy food environments.
School Gardens Past And Present
My research will provide new empirical information to the school garden research
literature. To strengthen the efforts to create healthier food climates at schools, we
need more evidence of school gardenings benefits to childrens health (Blair, 2009;
Phibbs & Relf, 2005; Ratcliffe, 2007; R Robinson-O'Brien, Story, & Helm, 2009).
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This papers second half examines some relevant school garden history and reviews
current research.
The United States School Garden Army
Do we face the moral equivalent of war concerning the health of our children
and youth and the American food supply and food marketing system? Do past
wartime initiatives offer possible solutions for today? In 1917, the eve of the United
States entry into World War I, the US was consuming 90% of domestic agricultural
production and planning to send soldiers to fight in Europe. The US government
mandated the United States School Garden Army (USSGA) to engage the nations
school-age youth in producing food for consumption at home and school as a way to
ensure that the people at home could be fed while food was shipped overseas for US
troops (Hayden-Smith, 2006). The USSGA guide for the Western US states for both
policy and curriculum states, Production is the first principle in education. The
growing of plants and animals should therefore become an integral part of the school
program. Such is the aim of the school garden army (Stebbins, 1920, p. 40).
Consider how radically different this attitude towards children was in 1917: they were
seen not as consumers, but as producers.
The United States regarded food security paramount for national security. The
US Defense department funded the USSGA. The Bureau of Education (BOE)
managed the USSGA with a goal to enlist youth in growing food as a national
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security measure. The USSGA curriculum, the first American effort at national
curriculum, taught youth gardening techniques and real life problem solving, as well
as attempted to synthesize the old rural values as society transitioned from rural to
urban (Hayden-Smith, 2006).
Prior to writing the USSGA guide, C. A. Stebbins worked at UC Berkeley in
the Junior Garden program that brought together the school district and the university
in an effort to prepare urban youth to learn gardening and business skills as a way to
maintain what were considered wholesome rural values in an urban context. The
Junior Garden program eventually had a weekly Farmers Market to sell their produce
and a bank. This model purposefully developed business skills and values of hard
work and thrift, and strongly influenced the USSGAs focus on citizenship
development as well. The aim of the USSGA is to strengthen boys and girls
mentally, physically, morally and spiritually (Stebbins, 1920).
While the USSGA focused on urban and suburban youth, the USDA began its
precursors to 4H with rural children between 1900 and 1920, with the intention of
educating not just the rural youth, but their parents, Americas farmers, who were
deemed easier to teach through their children. During World War I the number of
young people involved in the rural programs geared to agricultural education for more
efficient food production grew to over 100,000. The number of agricultural extension
workers went from 2,200 to 6000 (Hayden-Smith, 2006).
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He who produces is a patriota good citizen and A Garden for Every
Child, Every Child in a Garden were key statements in the USSGA literature
(Stebbins, 1920). This effort also involved more than 50,000 teachers and thousands
more community volunteers. In Los Angeles alone, 14,000 students worked in 13,000
garden plots, indicating almost each child had a plot at school. Just as one example of
results, the children at Ann Street Elementary School planted, raised and sold two
tons of potatoes (Hayden-Smith, 2006). One can imagine the children proudly
weighing their bags of potatoes freshly dug from the earth.
Educationally, the school gardening curriculum reflected the move towards
experiential education favored by such contemporary educational leaders as John
Dewey, then at Columbia University, and Liberty Hyde Bailey at Cornell, who had
worked towards including nature study in public education. When the US and its
European allies won the war, schools were encouraged to continue gardening, but the
USSGA was discontinued. Gardening fell by the wayside in the Roaring Twenties,
but the children who were trained to be gardeners in 1917-1918 were all adults when
World War II began in 1941. They knew what to do when the new Food for
Freedom campaign began, and once again school and home gardeners shared a
national responsibility for the nations well being (Hayden-Smith, 2006, Pollan,
2008).
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The difference in WWII came from a national focus on improving the nations
health through producing and consuming more vegetables and fruits. Eleanor
Roosevelt worked to establish the Liberty Gardens campaign in 1943, despite
objections from the USDA who feared home gardens would hurt professional
farmers profits. The focus on Americas eating habits and growing food at home
resulted in a higher level of consumption of fruits and vegetables than at any other
time before or since. The children who had been children learning gardening at school
in WW1 were adults serving their countrys food growing needs in WWII. Twenty
million home gardens produced 40% of the produce consumed by Americans (Pollan,
2008). A national policy for Americans to learn to grow a significant portion of their
dietary intake worked during those two wars to provide people with exercise, food
production knowledge and healthy food to eat. Contrast this to a National School
Lunch Program designed to feed children excess farm commodities, primarily served
up in processed food forms like white flour hamburger buns, chicken fingers and
Tater Tots.
When one considers that competitive junk food entered schools in the early
1970s via vending machines and snack counters, and that for more than forty years
children have been offered unhealthy food as a part of their school day along with
advertisements for the same, it makes a sad contrast to teaching gardening to World
War I children. Perhaps the garden Michelle Obama began with children on the White
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House Lawn in March, 2009 will have similar repercussions since policy has now
followed her example with school garden funding via grants for poverty area schools
who have the wherewithal to write and manage federal grants. (From personal
experience, I have to add that the complicated process to get a federal grant will be a
barrier to schools struggling with poverty issues.)
Some new programs emerging in response to lunchroom high-calorie, low-
nutrient food and the rise in childhood obesity often have a focus on children growing
food and knowing the farmers that grow their food (Anupama Joshi & Azuma, 2009).
Can Farm to School and school gardens make a difference in the health of American
children and adults today? What research challenges do we face to get adequate
information?
Todays School Gardens and Relevant Research
Public health research does indicate that urban gardens have the potential to
benefit both community and individual health (Alaimo, Packnett, Miles, & Kruger,
2008). Medical experiments have shown that eating fruits and vegetables leads to a
full feeling due to increased fiber and water in the produce and this results in eventual
weight loss (Rolls, Ello-Martin, & Tohill, 2004). We can assume that higher fruit and
vegetable consumption for children will help prevent obesity. Several studies have
shown that children who garden do consume more fruits and vegetables
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(Lautenschlager & Smith, 2007; McAleese & Rankin, 2007a; Murphy, 2003; R.
Robinson-O'Brien, Story, & Heim, 2009).
Appropriate public policy could make school grounds an excellent potential
location for school and community gardens, but policy has not yet matched need in
most places (Brown & Jameton, 2000). As mentioned in the chapter introduction,
when policy lags behind citizen needs, efforts for better-quality school food have
been led by private citizens and non-profit organizations concerned about the health
of children. The current school-gardening movement echoes this pattern, with
visionary individuals like Alice Waters and non- profits like the Center for Eco-
literacy, the National Gardening Association, the Community Food Security Coalition
and the American Community Gardening Association leading the way. But before
discussing specific examples, let us look at the impulse behind school gardens now.
A school-gardens renaissance occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s
during the War on Povertys efforts to revitalize education and with influence from
the new environmental movement. A progressive education philosophy to connect
kids to life processes and hands-on science led the effort, but school gardens didnt
spread due to the conservative political climate of the 1980s (Subramaniam, 2002).
The American Horticulture Society had its first national meeting on youth and
gardens with a theme of how gardens could support curricula in 1993, and those
conferences remain annual events. The American Community Gardening Association
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also hosts annual meetings and many workshops to share best practices and hold
dialogues on school garden policy issues. The 2009 Farm to Cafeteria annual meeting
that I attended in Portland, OR along with 650 other people including over 100 high
school and college students had a primary focus on gardening and Farm to School
programs capacity to improve childhood nutrition.
Four common themes appear in school garden research: intellectual growth as
measured by tests, health as measured primarily in the US by nutrition and weight
outcomes, community building via childrens psycho-social development and
childrens relationship with nature (Blair, 2009; Ozer, 2006b). Inquiries often use
surveys and qualitative interviews as methods in the pro-social arena, including
relationships with nature. Though Ozer uses nutrition and exercise as a topic, she
has only one sentence mentioning physical activity and cites no U.S. studies
investigating gardening for its physical activity levels, nor does Blair. Given the large
emphasis in school garden research on its possible benefits for positive influence on
youth health, particularly in combating obesity, it seems odd that U.S. researchers
essentially ignore measuring childrens physical activity levels while gardening.
Greened School Grounds and Physical Activity Levels
Canadas national greening association, Evergreen, has planning tools,
curriculum and grants to help schools nationwide change their outdoor environments
to more complex and diverse ones, including, but not always, vegetable gardens, and
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embracing also trees, shrubs, pathways, logs, rocks and benches. The Public Health
Agency of Canada funded a recent study of the results of school ground greening for
its health benefits and discovered significant benefit to childrens activity levels
(Anne Bell & Dyment, 2006).
Fifty-nine schools with greened school grounds in six provinces across
Canada filled out extensive questionnaires and responded to interviews. They
reported a 43% increase in vigorous activity levels in greened school grounds for both
boys and girls. They reported a 66% increase in moderate to light physical activity for
boys and a 62% increase for girls. These figures do not represent increase in
gardening activity levels, but activity levels created by a greener, more diverse
environment. Gardening is one element of the greened environment, but was not
measured separately. We have many anecdotal references in the U.S. literature to the
pleasure children take in planting and digging, but no actual measurements of the
amount of time spent in physical activity doing these gardening chores that would be
considered moderate to light activity (Bell & Dyment, 2006).
Bell and Dyment did not actually do observations of kids using a movement
instrument. They asked teachers and parents to rate activity levels on a questionnaire.
Gardening provides probably more stretching and lifting exercise than aerobic
exercise, and I am not sure how one could accurately measure the intensity as I have
no experience in kinesiology research methods, but this is something that should be
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done with elementary, middle and high school students who are all at different stages
of physical development and strength.
The Canadian study also used adult observation on greened school grounds to
estimate activity levels of children who are not normally the athletes at school, those
who might typically stand on the sidelines of an athletic game. Observers cross-
country reported a 64% increase in activity. Sixty percent of the respondents agreed
that the vegetable garden specifically increased activity for the less athletic students.
Dyment and Bell cite a meta-analysis of over 200 studies of the effectiveness of
exercise on cognitive functioning found that regular physical activity supports better
learning. When young peoples bodies are engaged, moving and busy, their minds are
also active (Etnier et al., 1997). While several U.S. school garden studies look at
cognitive benefits, e.g. higher science scores when learning in the garden, I have
found none linking the physical activity levels in green environments to learning and
physical well being as this Canadian study does. We do have research on
concentration capacity showing active plays benefits for younger youth at recess
(Jarrett, 2003).
We do have evidence in the US linking green environments to lower risk for
obesity. A medical study following 3,831 children ages 3-16 enrolled in Medicaid
who lived for at least two years at the same address found that higher greenness in
their neighborhoods was significantly associated with lower BMI z-scores regardless
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of residential density and that Higher greenness was also associated with lower
odds of childrens and youths increasing their BMI z-scores over 2 years (J. Bell,
Wilson, & Liu, 2008, p. 547). This research included nothing about what the children
ate. It presumes the lower weight comes from a higher physical activity level in a
green neighborhood. However, the study did not map access to fresh food as a part of
the study. It is possible there is something at work here besides just the greenness,
and there could be an accompanying study to see if the areas with greater tree cover
possibly also had easy access to good produce in stores and/or community or school
gardens.
Spiritual Well-Being And Greened School Grounds
The Bell and Dyment (2008) Canadian study mentions spirituality in relation
to green school grounds, an unused word in the U.S. school garden nomenclature.
Green school grounds, as a school setting, can contribute to childrens physical,
mental, social and spiritual well-being ((A. Bell & Dyment, 2008, p. p.77). The
researchers mention the international health-promoting schools movement that has
a basis in a holistic understanding of health as a state of complete physical, mental
and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (A. Bell &
Dyment, 2008, p. p. 79) and the role of school-ground greening in this health
promotion where the entire setting of the school creates a healthy environment.
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How can researchers measure spirituality? Bell and Dyment discuss a sense of
connectedness, purpose and meaning and an opportunity to form relationships with
other life forms besides humans through caring for plants and creating animal and
insect habitats. They discuss the opportunities gardening gives for caring. Some
American researchers use these same words but do not label them as spiritual.
From my own experience in greening school grounds in Canada, I can report
that the native elder in the school planned and carried out spiritual ceremonies in
conjunction with every major new element in our gardens, and these ceremonies
involved all teachers, students and community members. Prior to the ground
breaking, we smudged the people involved in the work in the outdoors area with
sweet grass and sage. At the garden opening there were multiple prayers by different
tribal chiefs, drumming and dancing by the children and elders together. Prior to
harvesting com, a teacher led the Iroquois com prayers. Every school day began with
drumming in the central school hall to bring the children into harmony with their
inner beings before they began their work. These traditional ceremonies were an
intentional effort by native elders working with the school to provide children living
in a risk-laden social environment with spiritual sustenance to make them inwardly
strong. The native elders emphasized reverence for the natural world.
How does one research such spirituality tied to a school garden? Does the
separation of church and state in the US make it impossible to consider the spiritual
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environment at an American public school? In this country perhaps we call it
environmental attitudes, but unless one asked specifically about an attitude of
reverence, I dont see how we could say we have evidence that school gardens inspire
reverence in children. We dont know because rarely in the U.S. does a researcher ask
this question of public school youth gardeners even though spirituality was mentioned
by Stebbins in 1920 as one of the benefits to children from gardening.
While a discussion of spiritual benefits may seem tangential to childrens food
environments, giving thanks for food to the Creator, however that Creator is
envisioned or named, has been part of most religious traditions throughout recorded
time. Giving thanks for food is not part of the American school lunchroom, nor is it
part of dinner in front of the TV set, and merits a mention. Perhaps we lack something
important in the way American children typically consume food for it to properly
nurture them, and perhaps taking time to sit quietly before a meal to say thank you for
the food affects the amount people eat before feeling satisfied. It might be possible to
construct such an experiment, but would the results be given credence in a secular
society?
I know how I felt when I lived in a college dorm where the food quality was
horrendous and served in an institutional setting from a cafeteria line-up. We sat at
long, unadorned tables. After one school term of misery at meals, I sought permission
to move off campus because I felt so awful having to eat that way daily. My food had
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no inner content, no taste, nothing to truly nourish me. As soon as I could cook for
myself, (and I began to bake my own bread) I felt fine emotionally, physically and
spiritually.
Alice Waters describes what made her become a chef, French food and the
way it anchored French family life to an agricultural community and even to the
seasons was a revelation to me.... I began teaching myself the basics of French
cuisine and dreaming of a restaurant where all my friends could come for tasty food
and talk about politicssuch as the right way to bring up our children and how to
share this small planet (Waters, 2008, p. 3). There is an aesthetic and social,
qualitative aspect to preparing and eating food that gets no mention in standard
research on obesity and childrens diets. But a survey of school grounds in England
revealed that children determined whether the adults at a school cared for them by
the way the schools grounds looked and provided for their needs (Titman, 1994).
School garden research embraces many elements: school policy and funding,
curriculum integration, academic achievement, eating habits, physical activity levels,
mental health, student behavior, community impacts including food security,
environmental health and social capital to name only some. Any one of these areas
could be a topic for research. Rarely does one study cover all these areas that
comprise the whole picture regarding school-garden impact on the child or the food
environment, but I am making an effort with this review to indicate these many links.
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The Edible School Yard and California School Garden Policy
Americas most famous school garden grew out of a former asphalt parking
lot at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, California when Alice Waters,
a trained Montessori educator turned famous local chef and owner of Chez Panisse
Restaurant, challenged the school principal, Neil Smith, to improve the food
environment for his students. He asked her to help him do this. They began the
project with a taco night where the Chez Panisse chefs helped the kids hand roll com
masa into tortillas for themselves and their parents. The chefs set up a wood fire
outside the school gym with a huge pot of beans to cook (Waters, 2008). The Center
for Eco-literacy provided funding and philosophical support to begin planning in
1995 what became the Edible School Yard (ESY). Ecological knowledge derived
from experiential learning, place-based education and a healthy social environment in
which adults and youth work and eat fresh, school-grown food together form the base
for this projects educational philosophy (Murphy, 2003; Waters, 2008). Curriculum
links local water shed science to food production (Ibid.).
Please note the Edible School Yard philosophical shift away from the
producer/consumer paradigm that dominated how we have considered children in the
United States for more than one hundred years. An eco-literacy paradigm frames
children as part of a complex web of life and asks them to accept responsibility to
respect and care for all these co-existing life forms, including themselves. The place-
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based education at the ESY focuses on all the regions natural systems and life
including local food producers and the children in their garden (Edible Schoolyard,
2006; Waters, 2008).
The Edible School Yard is famous not just for its beautiful one-acre garden
complete with chickens, but for its kitchens where students learn to prepare food from
the garden, set an attractive table and sit to eat and enjoy what they have grown in a
slow food environment (Furger, 2004). The ESY Rethinking School Lunch
program in collaboration with the Center for Eco-Literacy presents a whole systems
approach to tackling the childhood health crisis that includes recommendations for
food policy, school design, curriculum integration, procurement, waste management,
facilities, the dining experience, professional development, marketing and
communications in its ten-point program (Edible Schoolyard, 2006).
The Center for Eco-literacy contracted with the Harvard School of Public
Health and Massachusetts General Hospital to do a comprehensive study comparing
outcomes for 6th-grade students at MLKs holistic seed-to-table education in
watershed and local ecology with a control Berkeley middle school without a garden,
student kitchens, or an eco-literacy program embedded in gardening and cooking
(Murphy, 2003). This study did pre- and post-tests regarding knowledge of
vegetables, gardening cycles, watershed relationships and psychosocial behavior with
6th graders at both schools matched for socio-economic factors. One hundred and six
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students participated from the two schools, equally divided. Instruments measured
students psychosocial behavior at the schools, and students did fruit and vegetable
consumption inventories. Teachers at the two schools completed surveys on student
performance and the social environment of the schools. A comparison of year-long
grades revealed improved grade point averages for the students at MLK and better
scores on science and math tests than control school students. MLK students had a
significantly greater understanding of area ecology and garden cycles, as shown via
tests and in-person interviews.
Psychosocial adjustment improved dramatically for the MLK students as
compared to the control school group. Fruit and vegetable consumption also
improved for the MLK sixth graders (Murphy, 2003). Interviews were done with
teachers to help assess student behavior over the school year, and these confirmed
behavior changes self-reported by students. The psycho-social test instrument was a
standard one and did not have questions relevant specifically to the gardening and
cooking experience, as students at both schools took the same tests, and one school
did not have gardening or cooking. The study does not include responses from
students who garden and cook about their experiences, which disappointed me, since
it used many different measurements to determine the programs efficacy, but failed
to include the students own words about how gardening impacted them and their
learning. The evaluation does not say if the control school was later offered any help
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by the Center for Eco-literacy to begin a school garden and food-preparation
program, which seems ethically demanded when the results showed such clear
differences for students in the two different environments.
Investigating how students feel as a result of gardening, making a slow
food meal with their friends, and eating with peers and a teacher deserves attention
to further explore how this hands-on approach to creating a slow-food environment
impacts students mental and physical health. The study did not include physical
activity levels of students while gardening or preparing food. A longitudinal study
following these same 6th graders into high schools would give further information on
whether the improved fruit and vegetable consumption, higher grades and ability to
work well with ones peers in a garden in 6th grade carries over into later adolescence
when subjects no longer attend a school with a garden and slow food student
kitchen.
The Berkeley Unified School District did make a commitment to improve the
food served in their schools in 2005, and the Chez Panisse Foundation gave the
school district a large three-year grant to fund the transition to high-quality, locally
grown food district- wide, encompassing the control school. Now that the grant has
expired, the School district itself is putting an extra $250,000 into the 2010 program
to help it reach a buy-in level that will make it break even (Finz, 2009).
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In the same time period as the ESY began, California had the good fortune to have
another person committed to childrens learning and health in a position to make
change. Californias Department of Education (CDE) then Superintendent of
Instruction, Delaine Eastin, introduced legislation in 1999 to promote school garden
development via policy. The Garden in Every School program was legislated and
assigned state money to create new gardens across California each year. The CDE
website states, While the primary responsibility of schools is to foster academic
achievement, schools have an exceptional opportunity to guide children toward
healthier lifestyles by creating a healthy nutrition environment (California
Department of Education, 2008). California, through policy and annual funding,
offers a model to other states and the federal government to promote health and
learning as these state bills illustrate.
Table 3.1 California state legislation establishing policy and funding for school
gardens
Bill Year Bill content
Assembly Bill 1014 1999 Instructional School Gardens establishes the instructional school garden program.
Senate Bill 19 2001 The Pupil Health, Nutrition and Achievement Act identifies school gardens as one way to increase student preference for fresh fruits and vegetables.
Assembly Bill 1634 2002 Nutrition Education further supports school gardens through identifying best practices and supporting a grant program.
Assembly Bill 1535 2006 California Instructional School Garden Program authorizes the California Department of Education to award $15 million for grants to promote, develop, and sustain instructional school garden.
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In 2005 4,184 principals, 43% of the California state total, responded to a
Statewide Principals' School Garden Survey (Graham, Beall, Lussier, McLaughlin, &
Zidenberg-Cherr, 2005). Fifty-seven percent of respondents (N = 2381) answered yes
to having school gardens, and they were primarily at elementary and K-8 schools
(65%). High school gardens accounted for 11% with another 6% at high school
continuation schools. The most commonly sited (89%) use for gardens was
academic enhancement with 60% also saying they used the gardens for
extracurricular activities. Produce grew in 39% of these gardens for use at the
schools. However, researchers noted that there were significant barriers to getting this
produce into the school lunch, and that work needed to be done statewide to facilitate
that process.
Significantly, the prior survey of California schools to determine the number
of school gardens in 1996 revealed 13% (n=890) of schools had gardens. This 2005
survey after California established state wide educational policy and funding in
support of school gardens shows at least 24% of schools with gardens (n = 2381),
more than doubling the number of gardens in just nine years. (Graham, Beall, Lussier,
McLaughlin, & Zidenberg-Cherr, 2005)
Californias efforts to develop gardens as learning environments have both
health and academic goals. They target improving nutrition by combining hands-on
gardening education with nutrition education and science and environmental studies,
80