By Ayesha K. Mustafaa
Davis Magnet Elementary School set the new pace for changing the trend that shows Mississippi as the leading state in obesity and in food insecurity, when it became the first school in Mississippi to receive a Teaching Garden, piloted by the American Heart Association (AHA) last year on a national level.
The American Heart Association’s Teaching Gardens program selected Davis, thanks to a sponsorship by the Jackson Heart Foundation. This program uses a school garden to teach students about nutrition and inspire them to eat more fruits and vegetables.
The AHA shows that today’s young people face a serious health crisis: One in three children is overweight or obese, and only one in 10 consumes daily servings of fruits and vegetables recommended to maintain good health.
The Teaching Gardens were introduced to change those statistics, providing the opportunity where students will observe natural cycles, graph favorite foods, write about their experiences and prepare foods from different cultures.
According to the AHA, the garden will provide an engaging, hands-on context for students to practice the science, math, language arts and social studies concepts they’re working on in class.
The lessons focus on:
• Teaching new nutrition concepts
• Helping students understand where their food comes from
• Providing students with positive experiences with fresh fruits and vegetables.
“The Teaching Garden,” according to AHA, “is a real-life laboratory where students learn how to plant seeds, nurture growing plants, harvest food and ultimately understand the value of good eating habits and the importance of physical activity.”
The Teaching Garden initial goal was demonstrated at Davis Sept. 20 with an introduction to the community and public officials. On hand for the ground breaking ceremony were Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., JPS Superintendent Dr. Cedrick Gray, Dr. Clay Hays of Jackson Heart Foundation, AHA Communications Director Christiana Williams, joining Davis Principal Jane Everly and school staff.
Everly expressed how thrilled she was with this selection, saying, “This opportunity gives our children hands-on experience and an interactive nutrition curriculum that can help produce life-long, heart-healthy habits.”
Williams, on behalf of AHA, said, “By working together, we believe we will improve the eating habits, and thus the future health, of all of our students.”
As the sponsoring agency, Jackson Heart Foundation representative Hays said, “Heart disease affects millions of people. And now our youngest generation is at risk because of childhood obesity. If we can teach them the importance of making healthy decisions regarding nutrition and exercise, then we will help make a difference in the health of our future generations.”
In Jackson, Davis expects to reap fresh veggies and fruits this spring. Johnson made the commitment to return and help the students bring in their harvest. “Mississippi is known too often as having an obesity problem,” he said. “If students exercise, get enough sleep, eat right, they will learn better.
“Congratulations on this garden. You will learn a lot about gardening. You may remember your parents or grandparents gardening and wondered what they were doing. We will have community gardens all over the city of Jackson. Invite me back in eight to 10 weeks and I will help you harvest.”
Once considered an agricultural state, Mississippi now is listed as facing food insecurity, according to the Urban League-Tyson Foods Hunger Project Mississippi. Yet it is also listed as possibly reaching an obesity rate in population by 2030 of up to 66.7 percent, according to Trust for America’s Health (see The Mississippi Link Sept. 20 – 26 issue).
Presently, according to Trust for America’s Health, Mississippi has the highest obesity rate in the nation among its population at 34.9 percent.
For more information about the Teaching Gardens program and how you can participate, visit www.heart.org/teachinggardens.
The AHA is based in Dallas, Texas, and is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke.