MRH Auxiliary Funding Adds Garden
BY BRENDA BOUSER
Special to The Pilot
If they grow it, they will try it.
This unofficial principle of the Communities In Schools FirstSchool Gardens so inspired members of the FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital Auxiliary that they took a "leap of faith" four years ago and helped finance the first CIS FirstSchool Garden at Aberdeen Elementary.
There are now 12 gardens. Nine were built with money from the Auxiliary, which recently disbursed $6,500 from its 2011-2012 Special Projects Fund for a 13th.
MRH Auxiliary President Julie Martin likes to think of the FirstSchool Garden project as a form of preventive medicine.
"The gardens teach young children how to produce healthy foods and how to live a healthy lifestyle through the foods they eat," she says.
Melody Crow, who co-chairs the Auxiliary's Special Projects committee, agrees.
"A primary purpose of the Auxiliary has always been to support a healthier community through its various projects," she says. "The FirstSchool Gardens create such a wonderful hands-on opportunity to promote healthy lifestyle choices to -children and their families. The Auxiliary is very proud to have been part of these gardens from the beginning and to -continue to support their growth."
Kathy Byron is a life member of the Auxiliary and former Auxiliary Board president. A Master Gardener, she created and developed the FirstSchool Garden -concept and now serves as the program's director. She describes the program as a combination healthy eating project and "outdoor classroom," a multidisciplinary endeavor based on a simple premise.
"If you want to educate people about food, you start with children," she says.
According to Byron, helping produce an actual garden changes the relationship between children and the foods they eat. Many kids, she has found, have had little or no experience with fresh produce.
"A lot of kids may know what a french fry is, but they may not know what a potato is," she says.
Through the FirstSchool Garden program, children not only learn what a potato is, but they also learn how it's grown and the numerous ways - in addition to french fries - that it can be prepared.
Melissa Watford, a health educator with FirstHealth Community Health Services, has observed the CIS FirstSchool Garden program literally from the ground up, providing assistance and support whenever her help has been needed.
The Robert Wood Johnson-funded Community Health FirstGarden on Morganton Road in Southern Pines was the first project to introduce area kids to the gardening process by involving children from the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Sandhills and Southern Pines Recreation and Parks.
Watford developed that program and was its chief cheerleader. She says Communities In Schools and FirstHealth Community Health Services have a "true partnership" in their efforts to impact and reduce childhood obesity.
"We both feel very strongly about the work we do in childhood obesity," she says. "(The community garden concept) is one of the best practices for getting kids to grow food. If they grow the food, they will try the food. The students are often surprised that they like green beans, broccoli and spinach."
More recently, Community Health Services has worked with CIS to provide healthy food preparation classes for FirstSchool Garden children and their parents, and offered The Happy Kitchen course, a nationally recognized cooking and nutrition education program, at Pinckney Academy.
The original FirstSchool Garden project at Aberdeen Elementary received funding from both the MRH Auxiliary and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, which donated the money for an adjacent walking trail. The Auxiliary alone has funded gardens at eight other schools: the now-closed Academy Heights (whose materials were transferred to West Pine Elementary), Pinecrest High, Pinehurst Elementary, Pinckney Academy, Southern Pines Elementary, Vass-Lakeview Elementary, West End Elementary and West Pine Middle.
There are also gardens, funded by other sources, at Sandhills Farm Life, Aberdeen Primary, Southern Pines Primary and Academy of Moore.
According to Byron, each FirstSchool Garden is unique to its school. Children, parents, administrators and staff at each location made suggestions about what they wanted their garden to include and/or how they wanted it to be built.
The alternative garden at Pinckney Academy, for example, is an unirrigated keyhole garden modeled after the raised-bed gardens of Africa. Unlike other school gardens, which were designed in squares and built with timber retaining walls, the Pinckney garden is circular and has concrete retaining walls.
In each "outdoor classroom," children not only learn about healthy foods and healthy eating, but they also put subjects from their indoor curriculum - reading, math, science, even computer technology - into practical use.
"It makes it so hands-on," says Byron. "It's one thing to do something in the -classroom, but it's something else to put it into real practical application."
For more information on the FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital Auxiliary, call (910) 695-7510.
For more information on the CIS FirstSchool Garden project, call (910) 295-1072.
Brenda Bouser works for the corporate communications department of FirstHealth of the Carolinas.
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