Some urban children have never seen a seed transform into a plant or experienced the taste of fresh fruit straight from a garden. However, with the help of around 300 undergraduate students in the TX Sprouts program, 16 elementary schools in the Austin area have their own functional gardens with vegetables, fruits, native plants and herbs.
This month, the TX Sprouts’ educational program was awarded a 2018 Keep Austin Beautiful award, which recognizes community groups that inspire people to care for Austin’s open spaces and natural resources.
The program, funded by the National Institutes of Health and led by associate nutrition professor Jaimie Davis, aims to develop and test the effects of a school-based gardening, nutrition and cooking program to reduce childhood obesity and improve dietary intake in elementary schools.
The gardens are primarily planted at Hispanic, low-income schools in the Austin area. Students eat and prepare healthy food that they watch grow during weekly outdoor classes.
“We know that kids who grow their own food are much more willing to try to taste it,” Davis said. “This can have long-term impacts on their health.”
Davis said the gardens are one quarter of an acre or larger, provide an outdoor teaching area with whiteboards and benches and are created with tools provided by the Keep Austin Beautiful organization.
“A lot of what we do couldn’t have been possible without their help,” Davis said.
Senior program coordinator Katie Nikah said undergraduate student assistants help children taste-test produce from the garden and help them see food transition from the garden to a full meal. Nikah said it is important for students to see this transition with their own eyes to experience a connection with the earth.
“Someone telling you how amazing the Northern Lights are and then seeing it for yourself is a whole other experience,” Nikah said. “There’s nothing cooler to see than a kid light up and be excited about eating a carrot who a few months ago said they hated carrots.”
Nutrition senior Marcela Arbego said she has been working with TX Sprouts since last year and enjoys helping build the school gardens.
“It’s important to expose kids to actually growing gardens,” Arbego said. “It’s great to see how much the kids are actually invested in this once you actually teach them about nutrition.”