Albuquerque Public Schools serves 84,000 students in 141 schools. The district’s schools—elementary to high school—currently have more than 80 gardens. When thinking about these large numbers, it is important to understand that these school communities foster a student body which is uniquely filled with culture and traditions. The same is true about the gardens, which offer opportunities for engaged learning and physical activity while serving to help students understand how healthy food is grown.
One way the students’ interaction with the food they eat is fueled through taste tests. Students are invited to try fruits and vegetables that are culturally relevant to where they live and that have historical value in their communities. Connecting students to their own history as well as sharing food, recipes and cooking, elicits positive food memories and helps students make healthier decisions in their diet.
APS school gardens provide students opportunities to engage in agricultural practices and, on a small scale, to learn the responsibilities and the impacts of land cultivation. “Students who have school garden programs incorporated into their science curriculum score significantly higher on science standardized based assessments than students who are taught by strictly traditional classroom methods” (Klemmer, Waliczek, & Zajicek, 2005). The garden program not only teaches the technical side of farming but also how growing food can be empowering, the importance of food sustainability and the vital connection between land and culture in New Mexico.
APS is currently collaborating with CESOSS (Center for Social Sustainable Systems), the University of New Mexico and Bernalillo County Extension office in developing a New Mexico School Garden curriculum. The goal is to reconnect schools, students, and families with important local community traditions, such as acequias, through gardening.
Gardens are also a place of inclusion. Refugee students learning English have greatly excelled by having garden and nutrition classes as a part of their ESL education. Cultural exchange through agriculture has played an important role in helping these young people feel more a part of their school communities while also allowing them to share their identity, heritage and way of life with others.
APS school gardens involve families and community partners, providing opportunities for continuous learning, shared resources and the love of food. A study by Habib and Doherty (2000) showed that “68 percent of the students shared what they were learning with family and friends.”
This year, APS proudly hosted its first School Garden Crawl, which highlighted two school gardens and one community garden as a way of capacity building and professional development. Teachers, parents, students, school board members and others received information on how to grow and improve their gardens while they networked and toured each unique garden space. The Garden Crawls will continue with a rotation of schools in different learning zones every nine weeks, to coincide with the changing seasons as well as the grading periods. In this way, teachers will be able to teach seasonality and about sustainability. The event is also intended to celebrate the diversity of each school and how they decided to best utilize the garden space they have created.
The next event, a day-long summit, The APS Gathering of the Gardens, is currently being planned. It will feature keynote speakers, workshop tracks for teachers and community members based on experience and need, demonstrations from community members and organizations, and art and projects produced by students themselves.
APS school gardens will continue to focus on capacity building through community involvement. Food security and food quality will continue to be important challenges to address for young people. Outdoor classroom education, paired with the harvests of organically and community grown foods, will always be a focal point.
The ongoing professional development of teachers is also paramount. The district hopes to expand its community partnerships, and with their support, continue to innovate and educate.
Mallory García, a native Burqueño from the South Valley, is a FoodCorps Service Member and the school gardens coordinator for Albuquerque Public Schools. She believes food is medicine and that every garden has the potential to be a powerful outdoor classroom.
State of Obesity Report Released
The Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have released the 14th annual State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America report. The report highlights the ways that obesity—cited as a leading concern by 70 percent of county officials—affects all segments of the population and states that “obesity is a top national priority.” The report also details effective approaches to reducing obesity, particularly among children.
The full 108-page report can be downloaded at www.stateofobesity.org. The website also features categories from the report and graphic representations of many of the statistics. Highlights include a Fast Facts section and a summary of rates and trends. An interactive portion of the website allows visitors to click on areas that identify policies in place on a state-by-state basis. New Mexico ranks 33rd in the nation for 2016 with a 28.3 percent adult obesity rate, which represents a stable rate between 2015 and 2016.
The report also states, “After increasing steadily for decades, the national childhood obesity rate has leveled off, but it is still alarmingly high compared to a generation ago.” Obesity is associated with increased health risks, and, as such, costs our nation more than $150 billion in healthcare costs annually.
One section of the report highlights key obesity-prevention policies, stating, “A range of strategies can help support opportunities for healthy eating and increased physical activity. They focus on making healthier choices easier in people’s daily lives.”