Good Food for Oxford Schools will host its first Garden Party for parents and children from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Della Davidson Elementary School.
While there will be fun activities for families including arts and crafts, playing with bubbles, planting, music and pizza from Fergndan’s food truck, the event is also meant to be a learning experience for parents. Oxford parents will have the opportunity to tour the garden, as well as see how their children’s teachers use the garden as a learning tool.
“We hope that the parents will be interested in visiting the garden with their kids and facilitating with the garden in the summer and maybe form an interest in making a garden in their own home,” GFOS director Eleanor Green said. “Generally, [we want to] raise awareness of the assets of the garden at our school.”
Green said the GFOS program works in classrooms, cafeterias and gardens in the Oxford community to help educate both students and their families about living a healthy lifestyle through gardening skills. Beth Hunt, mother of two children in the Oxford School District, said the educational component is the most valuable.
“They are not just giving [children] access to the foods in the schools but giving them the knowledge of how to carry a healthy lifestyle over into their home lives,” Hunt said.
The GFOS program has helped start five different garden sites in elementary schools and Oxford High School, but not many parents know much about or have the chance to participate in the gardens. Green said the goal of the Garden Party is to help raise parental awareness of the school gardens and to get parents more involved.
“The rate of unhealthy children in our state and overall obesity of adults in Mississippi is alarming and contributes to so many other health problems, so it is important to teach people from a young age how to be healthy,” Green said.
The GFOS program began five years ago to help fix this problem by simultaneously improving food in school cafeterias and educating students. The program’s overall goal is to raise healthier students not only by providing them with nutritious food but also by educating them and their families on nutrition.
GFOS already makes 75 percent of the children’s meals from scratch, right in the cafeteria, but its hope is to increase this number by buying more food from local farmers. The program’s goal for the future is to see the children who are currently in the program becoming healthier than the children before them.
“Our school has seen the success of the garden and the learning that has taken place,” Laurie Beth Ellis, fourth grade teacher and member of GFOS Advisory Board, said. “It has been amazing to me to watch [the children] eat spinach and mustard greens right out of the beds and be excited to try vegetables or fruits that they normally would not be excited about consuming.”
The Mississippi State Department of Health’s 2016 action plan included a Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey from 2013, which reported that 11.1 percent of youth did not eat any vegetables or fruit in a week’s time. The plan also mentioned that 39 percent of elementary school students in Mississippi are overweight or obese.
Science lab teacher Laura Whitten said the garden is a great outdoor classroom where children get the chance to spend more time outside, being active and getting their hands dirty. They learn how to plant vegetables, rake beds, compost and watch the life cycle of insects. Whitten said that since the school supports the garden through the science lab, the approximately 680 children at Della Davidson get the opportunity to work in the garden instead of it being reserved for only certain classes.
Ellis said she believes the teachers and children are lucky to have an organization like GFOS to support their work in the garden and to be in a school district that encourages them to teach outside the normal paper-and-pencil method.