From lettuce to chives to tomatoes, elementary school students across Colorado are getting a lesson on what they eat.

Two prominent metro area foundations are helping interested schools raise the money and get the teacher buy-in and parent volunteers required to make a garden successful.

Lafayette Elementary students Lining up to plant school garden. The Boulder-based Growe Foundation’s mission is to promote healthy and sustainable eating. The Growe Foundation supports 14 elementary school gardens across the Boulder Valley School District.

“We work with teachers on the curriculum,” said Bryce Winton Brown, Growe Foundation founder. “We are teaching kids about vegetables and where their food comes from.”

The Growe Foundation was concerned with children’s health and that not much was being done to address the issue.

“Kids are bombarded by junk food advertising, Brown said. “We want to teach them where food comes from.”

Denver Urban Gardens‘ mission is to grow as a community through gardening. DUG, as it’s known, has been around for 26 years and now supports more than 15 community gardens in Denver Public Schools.

“For the long term, in seven schools, we have intensive community gardening and nutrition,” said Abbie Harris, DUG’s communications coordinator. “We have a whole set of standards-based gardening and a nutrition curriculum.”

National push to make kids healthier

With First Lady Michelle Obama addressing the issue of child obesity through her Let’s Move! campaign, more people are trying to take a stance and do what they can to combat the epidemic.

“It’s a movement that is starting all across the country,” Brown said. “People are concerned with children’s health.”

Lafayette Elementary students examining a lettuce plant in their school gardenDUG has other programs to help children learn to garden. For instance, a “connecting generations” program now in seven schools connects older adults who  may have grown up gardening to ensure there was food on the table, to today’s children, who are more used to shopping for pre-packaged food at Costco or grocery stores.

“We also provide about once-a-month free or very low cost education trainings on things like,  ‘How to use yourschool garden.’ In addition, if anyone is interested in getting a school garden going, we have a garden information program,” said DUG’s Harris.

The Boulder Valley School District is embracing school gardens and the advantage of having it be part of the curriculum. In fact, Brown says it’s essential that the garden be tied to the curriculum. At Lafayette Elementary, each grade has a different task in the garden, said Mary Wilkie, the school’s PTA president.

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The first-graders are responsible for planting the lettuce and they learn some math skills by using rulers to measure rows 6 inches apart; the second-graders harvest the lettuce and research market conditions before selling it; and the fourth-graders make the salad dressing as part of a science unit.

“The experiment becomes real,” said Wilkie. “It works best when parents get involved and talk about what they are growing and eating.”

When Wilkie’s son was in kindergarten, he wanted to start a garden at home because of what he learned at school.

“We started small at home,” said Wilkie. “If parents want to start a garden, they can talk to florists to see what works best for them.”

The garden not only gives the children a real-life experience, but Wilkie said the children learn to work well as a team.

“There is an emphasis on peaceful gardening, and the school sees a huge benefit because the garden gives (the kids) focus,” she said.

Both Lafayette Elementary  and DUG have the children grow their vegetables to sell at area farmers markets, too, for an added lesson in economics. At Lafayette, the children do research on the prices before they go to market.

“It’s a way for kids to earn money and business skills in addition to growing healthy, fresh vegetables,” said Harris.

Volunteers needed

The Growe Foundation helps run the gardens but each school also has volunteers to help maintain them.

“Anybody can help the kids. It’s basic supervision and we need more volunteers,” said Wilkie.

So, parents, grab those gardening gloves and hoes and get yourself to school.

Editor’s note: EdNews Parent intern Kate Schimel shot and edited the video to accompany this story.