WSU Extension is the lead institution on a new “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth” project funded by a $1 million grant from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. The grant was announced today by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Aimed at reducing childhood obesity and improving nutrition, the pilot project spans four states, will serve an estimated 2,800 students at 70 elementary schools, and will engage low-income students in the physical activity involved in growing food and learning life skills. The Cooperative Extension Services of Iowa State University, Cornell University, and the University of Arkansas are collaborating with WSU Extension on the project.
“School gardens hold great promise for educating our kids about food production and nutrition,” said Vilsack. “Learning where food comes from and what fresh food tastes like, and the pride of growing and serving your own fruits and vegetables, are life-changing experiences. Engaging kids in our efforts to end childhood hunger and curb childhood obesity is critical if we are going to succeed.”
“Across the nation, communities are facing the interrelated problems of obesity and chronic diseases associated with poor nutrition and lack of physical activity, which are often linked to poverty, food insecurity, lack of access to or utilization of open or green spaces, and limited understanding of the role of nutrition and physical activity play in overall health,” said Brad Gaolach, the project’s lead scientist and director of Pierce and King County Extension.
The project will utilize WSU Extension educators’ expertise in 4-H, gardening, and nutrition programs. Additionally, Extension researchers in all four states will assess both the process of implementing gardens in low-income schools and the nutritional outcomes of the project. King County is a nationally recognized nexus of efforts to improve local nutrition and confront health problems through gardening and other outdoor activities.
“We’ve been working in this arena for at least 10 years,” said Gaolach. “To me, the exciting thing is that this grant validates the value of the land-grant university system. We are, I think, the only organization that has programs in gardening, youth development, and nutrition; is capable of disseminating and implementing this project on a national scale; and can also conduct the outcome assessment.”