Candice Shoemaker thinks she may have an answer to the nation’s obesity epidemic in children.
The associate professor of horticulture, forestry and recreation resources at Kansas State University has received a $1.04 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Research Institute to study whether gardening can promote a healthier lifestyle. The study is called Project PLANTS (Promoting Lifelong Activity and Nutrition Through Schools).
Shoemaker and her colleagues will work to create gardens and high tunnels (for gardening during the winter months) in Manhattan-Ogden Unified School District schools, as well as an after-school program for fourth- and fifth-grade students to grow their own fruits, vegetables and flowers. She hopes to show that gardening can promote a healthier lifestyle and combat childhood obesity in several ways:
- When children help grow their own fruits and vegetables, they’re more interested in eating them.
- Gardening gets kids off the couch and into the outdoors; it also counts as physical activity.
- Students in the after-school gardening club will take home plants and care for them at home. This encourages home gardening and provides knowledge of, and ownership in, tending the plants.
“It will get them outside and away from the TV,” Shoemaker says. “They also may be more likely to do other things while they are outside.”
Shoemaker also wants to demonstrate that a school garden can be sustained. Previous literature indicates school gardens are typically the project of one or two teachers, and when these teachers are no longer able to maintain the garden, it fails. Shoemaker wants to figure out how to keep these gardens going long term, creating a model for other schools.
“We will have a ‘community hub’ at each school,” she says, including parents, after-school staff, teachers, area Master Gardeners and community volunteers. “We will develop a program to work closely with the school, creating the garden and helping to take care of it in the summer. We hope to show how a community can work with a school to put in a garden.
“Physical activity and good nutrition are essential elements to prevent chronic disease and obesity,” she adds. “Gardening can help meet the moderate-intensity physical activity recommendations, as well as offer fresh, nutritious produce for good nutrition habits.”