Posted Feb 10, 2011
The ground is still covered in snow and ice, and temperatures are in the single digits, but local fourth-graders are getting a taste of early spring planting with the Veggie U program.
"I like how we can play with the dirt and see how the plants grow," said Caitie Nicholson, a fourth-grader of Chestnut Elementary School in Painesville.
Caitie's teacher, Tamra Stokes, introduced them to Veggie U, a program that studies soil, planting, nutrition and plant anatomy.
The nonprofit program is from the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio, whose goal is to change the eating habits of children by teaching them about agriculture and healthy food choices.
"We are teaching kids about plants, from seed to harvest," Stokes said.
So far, her class has tasted fresh fruit and vegetables, planted seeds and constructed worm farms. Monday morning, the students were conducting various plant experiments from the Veggie U curriculum.
Stokes said the kids' favorite part of the program is playing with the dirt.
When the students were asked about the different vegetables they enjoyed, most said popcorn shoots, celery and spinach.
"I told them about the cartoon character Popeye and how spinach makes you strong," Stokes said.
She hopes that the kids make healthier choices by selecting fresh food rather than food out of a can.
Veggie U is new to the school district this year and began through an initiative from ACHIEVE Lake County, a Lake County General Health District community health advocate organization.
ACHIEVE partnered with the Ohio Department of Health to place Veggie U kits in more than 10 fourth-grade classrooms in Lake County school districts, such as Painesville, Madison, Kirtland, Fairport and Willoughby-Eastlake.
The curriculum was designed by teachers to meet federal standards of the No Child Left Behind initiative, according to a news release.
The program was funded by a grant from the Ohio Department of Health, but only for the 2010-2011 school year.
"There is no current funding at this time," ACHIEVE spokeswoman Tori Luyster said. "We are trying to see what we can do for next year."
Luyster said the program teaches kids the importance of nutrition.
"It's one of the initiatives ACHIEVE is trying to do -- to get people to eat better," she said.
Stokes said she likes the program for her students, but hopes it starts in the spring rather than the fall, if it continues next year.
There is no natural light for the plants to grow in the classroom because of the outside environment, Stokes said.
The students don't seem deterred as they rushed around the classroom checking on their experiments and recording the results in their notebooks.
"I like how we get to see how well the plants are going to grow," Carlos Navarro said.
Ciera Rapascky said she now likes Veggie U a lot more than she did at first.
"I like that you can plant seeds, watch them grow and then pick the vegetables and eat them," she said.
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Copyright © 2011, The News-Herald, Willoughby, Ohio