Farm to School 

Elementary students get their hands dirty in school gardens.

Some Memphis City Schools (MCS) students are having a hand in growing their own lunch.

Grahamwood Elementary is the first of a series of schools that will be participating in the Farm to School Network, which allows students to grow produce to be used in their cafeterias.

In March, students planted spinach, cabbage, collard greens, peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes in gardens on the school's playground. The first batch of produce will be served on the school's salad bar in the upcoming weeks.

The project will not only contribute to students' plates but their education as well. The school is creating curriculum to connect the work students do in the gardens with lessons in math, science, and other subjects.

"The life of a plant is really a mathematical equation. It requires so much sunlight and so much water," said Anthony Geraci, executive director of child nutrition for MCS. "It will produce so much food, so there's all of these little math equations in there. [There's] also the analysis of the nutrient value of the foods [and] photosynthesis in turning sunlight into energy."

The garden area at Grahamwood has three hoop houses that can each hold enough produce to feed 650 students. There are also raised garden beds in between the houses that can feed a total of 500 students.

Besides adding to the food selection in the cafeteria and the educational aspect, the gardening project was introduced to help curb childhood obesity.

Clintonia Simmons, founder of Healthy Kids & Teens, said about 20 percent of Memphis kids are overweight. She said recent studies by MCS' Coordinated School Health Survey revealed that 41 percent of city students are at risk of being overweight.

"There's food that's killing our children," Geraci said. "It's also the cure, but it's a different kind of food. It's fresh, unprocessed, nutrient-dense food that we need to start reintroducing into our kids' lives."

With the gardening initiative, students are in charge of watering, weeding, and planting. They also plan which vegetables to grow.

"It's going to wind up in their salad bar, so [they] have input on how that works and what's going to be there. They need to be able to eat it," Geraci said. "We're doing redevelopment with our chefs and our dieticians, so the kids are fully involved in this process."

Students will be able to sell some of the produce they grow in the garden, and the money raised will go toward further implementing the program.

Grahamwood principal Pete Johnson said the project is providing students with the knowledge to cultivate their own gardens at home, as well as educating them on food production.

"If students choose to have [a garden] at home, they can get their parents involved and show them how you'd go about doing it," Johnson said. "The biggest thing, I think, is the exposure and experience, and [the message that], 'Hey, this is how your food gets to the stores.'"

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