The cultivation of school gardens at the elementary levels in the Philippines will be beneficial not only for the health and well-being of schoolchildren but also for the environment.

By Julio Yap, Jr.

Joint research conducted by the Australian Catholic University (ACU) and the University
of Texas showed that school gardens can have a positive effect on children’s health and the environment. ACU co-author Associate Professor Shawn Somerset, an expert in
nutrition and public health, believes the research proves that school gardens have positive
implications for sustainability as well as children’s health.“School gardens are a great model to integrate nutrition, environmental sustainability, and education objectives,” Somerset said. Researchers found that children who are involved with school gardens tend to eat more fruits and vegetables. They also found that these children are willing to taste and cook a greater variety of fruits and vegetables; they also demonstrate improved behavior, both at home and in the classroom.

As this developed, the researchers conducted an assessment of 13 school garden programs in Australia and in the United States to examine their impact on children’s dietary behaviors and to identify effective strategies that were similar and were in use in the programs. Among the strategies used in the different programs were “handson”
elements, including cooking components, food provision, and support for parents and teachers.

The programs were either conducted during school hours or in after-school settings for children ranging from kindergarten to Year 8. Of the 11 programs that examined dietary intake,
six found that the program resulted in increased vegetable intake, while four
showed no effect.

Seven of the eight studies that measured the children’s dietary preferences found that the programs resulted in an increased preference for vegetables. It was learned that children involved in the programs had an improved attitude towards fruits and vegetables, could easily identify them, and were more likely to taste and prepare or cook fruits and vegetables.

According to Somerset, further research was needed to understand how to achieve long-term improvements in dietary behaviors, and how to sustain and develop the programs in schools.

“Installing and using school gardens is not complicated, and many successful
gardens have run purely on the energy of local school communities. Our study showed that international research in this area is sparse, but encouraging,” he added.

Somerset also said that such community-based initiatives are highly cost-effective and can potentially yield many long-term health and wellbeing outcomes, and urged that a larger
share of national research budgets be given to these. (Photo credit: www.eastwestseed.com)

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s June 2015 issue.