GEORGETOWN, Del. – One program in Delaware is growing as an organization and in the ground. Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids (HFHK) is changing the way students view their food by helping them grow it right in their schools, and it’s truly an all-hands-on-deck effort to make it happen. “Our vision is that this will lead to generations of healthy Delawareans,” says Jen Cipolla, a program manager at HFHK.
HFHK is an organization that’s been growing quietly behind the scenes in schools across Delaware for the past 15 years. During that period, they’ve implemented their vision in 50 schools. Children ages kindergarten through fifth, are getting hands-on experience and understanding as to where their food comes from. “They get to taste what they’ve planted, they’re learning how to plant their food and in this world of uncertainty it’s so important for so many of the children who don’t have the food security and nutrition security to have this knowledge and information,” says Anita Broccolino, Director of Community Engagement & Partnerships. Cipolla adds, “The kids are more likely to taste the things that they grew because they had a hang in it and we’re seeing that.”
The organization, also known as the “First State School Garden Experts,” works with elementary schools to create a multi-level curriculum that involves each grade level.
Second graders learn about soil composition, cultivate, and prepare the garden to be planted. Kindergartners and first graders learn about seed structure and plant the seeds in a garden. Third graders are responsible for watering for two weeks. Then fourth graders harvest the first growth, and six to eight weeks later, fifth graders harvest the second growth. However, they get the bonus lesson about energy and matter and are responsible for cleaning out and composting the garden. “So that’s how every student in the whole school can be involved, it doesn’t matter age or ability, everybody gets to be a part of the garden,” says Cipolla. Broccolino adds, “It’s not a one and done, here learn this and that’s the end of it, it’s you’re building upon what you’ve learned from the year before, you’re being consistent with it, you’re getting to do these special jobs in the garden, and the kids get excited by that.”
Fifteen years ago, the founder of the organization saw there was a disconnect between what students were learning in science class and understanding where their food came from. This program was created to close that gap and cultivate a life-long understanding of how to grow their food. “When you have kids coming up to you telling you that they don’t eat stuff from the dirt and you know that almost all of your food comes from agriculture and farming, it’s kind of shocking,” says Rachel Terracina, the Program Coordinator for Kent, and Sussex County. She adds, “These are the kids that are going to be our leaders that are going to be making decisions for another student when they’re our age so we need to make sure they’re as informed and empowered as possible.”
The program was first implemented in an elementary school in New Castle County, DE but has since trickled it’s way down to Kent and Sussex, with the recent addition of Sussex Academy. There, we’re told students, parents, and administrators are already embracing the positive impact the program is making. “Working with healthy foods for healthy kids has given us the ability to have a curriculum,” says Dean of Elementary at Sussex Academy, Connie Hendricks. She adds, “It incorporates so many things, math and science, language arts and team building.”
Through these efforts, it’s also bringing the community together as each school partners with agencies along with HFHK to better grow their garden not just in school, but at home. Cipolla says, “We’ve seen this start to happen, we’ve had kids come back and say I grew veggies this summer or I grew squash, or I grew peppers, things like that.” She adds, “Just seeing their faces light up when they tasted them and realized how good these strange vegetables were that they had never tasted but were so common to me, that was kind of like my moment of this is what I need to be doing.”
Next summer, HFHK is implementing a new initiative where every child will take home seeds, the experience, and knowledge to teach their families a lesson which is part of a project.
Meanwhile, they are preparing for the big annual fundraiser in November as well, and hope to continue growing sponsorships, and community partners. We’re also told they still have the major goal of being in every school throughout the state.
More information can be found on their website.