GEORGETOWN, Del. – A Delaware program is growing as an organization and on the field. Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids (HFHK) is changing the way students think about their food by helping them grow it right in their schools, and it’s truly a everyone’s effort to make it happen. “Our vision is that this will lead to generations of healthy Delawareans,” says Jen Cipolla, program manager at HFHK.
HFHK is an organization that has been growing quietly behind the scenes in Delaware schools for 15 years. During this period, they implemented their vision in 50 schools. Children ages kindergarten through fifth grade gain hands-on experience and understand where their food comes from. “They get to taste what they have planted, they learn how to plant their food and in this world of uncertainty it is so important for so many children who are not food and nutrition secure to have this knowledge. and information,” says Anita Broccolino, director of community engagement and partnerships. Cipolla adds, “Kids are more likely to taste the things they grew because they were addicted to it and we see that .”
The organization, also known as First State School Garden Experts, works with elementary schools to create a multi-level curriculum that engages each grade level.
Second graders learn about soil composition, cultivate, and prepare the garden for planting. Kindergarten and first graders learn about the structure of seeds and plant seeds in a garden. Third graders are responsible for watering for two weeks. Then, fourth graders harvest the first shoot, and six to eight weeks later, fifth graders harvest the second shoot. However, they get the extra lesson about energy and matter and are responsible for cleaning and composting the garden. “This is so every student in the entire school can participate, no matter their age or ability, everyone can be part of the garden,” Cipolla says. Broccolino adds: “It’s not over, learn this and that’s it, you build on what you learned from the previous year, you are consistent with it, you get to do those special jobs in the garden, and the kids are excited about it.
Fifteen years ago, the organization’s founder noticed that there was a disconnect between what students were learning in science class and understanding where their food came from. This program was created to bridge this gap and cultivate a lifelong understanding of how to grow their food. “When you have kids telling you they don’t eat things from the land and you know that almost all of your food comes from agriculture, it’s pretty shocking,” says Rachel Terracina, program coordinator. for Kent and County of Sussex. She adds: “These are the children who will be our leaders and who will make decisions for another student when they are our age. So we need to make sure they are as informed and empowered as possible.
The program was first implemented at an elementary school in New Castle County, DE, but has since expanded to Kent and Sussex, with the recent addition of Sussex Academy. There, we’re told that students, parents and administrators already understand the positive impact of the program. “Working with healthy foods for healthy kids has given us the opportunity to have a curriculum,” says Connie Hendricks, dean of elementary school at Sussex Academy. She adds: “It integrates so many things, math and science, language arts and team building. »
Through these efforts, it also brings the community together as each school partners with agencies as well as HFHK to better cultivate their garden, not only at school, but at home. Cipolla says, “We saw it start, kids came back and said I grew vegetables 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 realizing how good these strange vegetables were that they had never tasted but were so common to me, it was amazing. was kind of like my moment is what I have to do. .”
Next summer, HFHK will implement a new initiative where each child will bring home seeds, experience and knowledge needed to teach their family a lesson that is part of a project.
Meanwhile, they are also preparing for the big annual fundraiser in November and hope to continue growing sponsorships and community partners. We are also told that their main goal is still to be in every school in the state.
More information can be found on their website.