17 Mar Home grown lunch – The Joy Trip Project
Jesse Kurzicki is one of those rare kids who loves eating his vegetables, and not just the peas and carrots his mom piles on his supper plate. The 7th grader enjoys garden produce he grows himself.
“I grew up with gardens,” Kurzicki said. “Strawberry gardens my mom loves so much. And my dad who lives up north has a garden with corn and beans and carrots. All the green that comes from them, I think they’re great!”
At 12 years-old Kurzicki is a member of the Sherman Middle School garden club. This after school program provides a small plot of land for the cultivation of vegetables. There students can grow everything from tomatoes to broccoli to cucumbers. But in addition to offering a fun outdoor activity, the garden club also helps young people acquire a taste and an appreciation for fresh nutritious food.
“I like peas a lot,” Kurzicki said. “I love them ‘cause they’re sweet and I love to crunch into them.”
Started a few years ago with the support of Tory Miller, chef and co-proprietor at L’Etoile restaurant in Madison, the Sherman Middle School garden club aims to correct some of the bad eating habits all too common among kids today.
“I heard about how food like Taco Bell and McDonald’s and Burger King was getting into our schools as part of their regular lunch menu. That just didn’t seem right to me,” Miller said. “So as a chef I wanted to see what I could do to get involved.”
Working as a volunteer, Miller began offering demonstrations to show kids how fun and easy it is to cook. A year later he partnered with the non-profit Research, Education Action and Policy (REAP) on Food Group to create the garden club at Sherman. Called Cooking Health Options in Wisconsin or CHOW the program Miller helped to establish gives kids a hands-on learning experience in what he calls an edible classroom.
“Obviously I give them the recipes and the instruction. But there’s something about giving kids fresh produce and fruits and vegetables, things that they’ve never tried before, and letting them make them on their own,” Miller said. “They’re very proud of it and they really want to eat it.”
Lisa Jacobson, program manager for the homegrown lunch program at REAP said the CHOW program can assist kids in making better food choices.
“Research has shown that exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables can be directly related to increased consumption,” Jacobson said. “It might sound like a no-brainer, but it really helps provide opportunities for kids to connect with the natural world.”
Produce is grown at Sherman under the supervision of garden coordinator Virginia Hughes. Formerly a server at L’Etoile Hughes now helps children understand where their food comes from
“Most of these kids have never seen vegetables growing before,” she said. “A lot of them don’t realize they come from the ground. Most think they come from the supermarket.”
Hughes works with teachers at Sherman to incorporate the garden into the school curriculum. Students learn a variety of different lessons based on the practice of raising vegetables. “It’s not just about food,” said Tory Miller of L’Etoile. “The kids are out there doing mapping, they’re out there doing their geometry. They’re doing tests on the soil, samples from the compost. They’re learning how to start plants from seeds.”
Miller helped started with the CHOW program with a grant from a private donor and funds he raised in the amount of $13,000. The chef hopes to encourage the district to create similar gardens at other schools around town.
“It’s not like it’s not a lot of money, but when you consider the benefits, what you get back from it,” Miller said, “you’ll get that money back in the long run.”
This story originally appeared in the November issue of the Capital Region Business Journal philanthropy feature Good Works