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Nutrition and Nurturing: Let’s Grow!

Author: Shelby Maidl

Kids are natural nurturers. At Growing Sustainably, we see this in the way the youth gingerly touch the sprouting plants, the way they feel sad when pulling out a weed that is trying to grow, the way they jump in excitement when they find a giant beetle crawling out of the dirt but know not to disturb it because the garden is its home.

During a garden lesson on teaching the essentials needed for plants to grow, the students made connections between human and plant care-taking – we all need shelter, sunlight, clean water and air, and a healthy and nutritious diet. Our students know that for plants, this healthy diet includes a balance of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and other nutrients.

At Growing Sustainably, our mission is to educate youth on how to nurture their own bodies so they can grow strong like the plants we nurture every week.

Through gardening and cooking classes, we empower youth with new knowledge about healthy eating and hands-on abilities to prepare their own nutritious meals.

This fall, after a long and sunny summer season, the garden at McKinley Elementary School was overflowing and the bolting plants were reaching for the sky. The community came together to prepare the garden for the fall planting season.


McKinley Elementary students, community members, and SJSU students came out to pull, rake, shovel, trim, and finally plant and water new seeds. Together we brought new life into the garden and shared a healthy garden-fresh lunch to nurture our bodies after a day of hard work. Over the next several weeks the students will track the growth of the beets, onions, spinach, and carrots that went into the ground.

30850598205_490d253755_kOverheard at the Garden

“How do plants breathe?” “Which vitamins does spinach have?” “How can I grow vegetables at home?” Working in the garden opens up new worlds for exploration, questioning, discovery, and making connections. During a garden class, students were given a blank map of the garden and were asked to fill it in with their own observations of the garden. One student picked a mint leaf, gave it a sniff, and realized it smelled like mint tea her family bought from the supermarket. She took a handful of leaves to try brewing her own cup of mint tea at home. While peering into a garden bed, a few kids recognized the spiky leaves of baby carrots coming out of the dirt. They dug in with both hands, carefully excavating the snack they remembered from their garden classes last year. In the garden, students make hypotheses, do experiments, measure length and volume, and apply other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) knowledge in a practical way.



Bringing Garden Education into the Home

The oncoming holiday season means abundant occasions for cooking fresh food and special meals shared with family and friends. I challenge you to take these celebrations as learning opportunities.

Include the youth in your life in the cooking process. Can you cut these potatoes into six equal parts? How many cups of flour do we need if we are doubling the recipe? What can we add to the meal so we get more vitamins?

Take a closer look at all of the delicious food laid out on the table. What are all of the ingredients that went into each dish? How many of these foods are local to California? Did everything come from a grocery store, and could we have grown any of the ingredients at home? Identify the proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, fats, and sweets on your plates – whose plate has the most balanced meal?

The whole family can be involved in learning about healthy eating and nutrition. Finding new ways to nurture our bodies can be exciting. Check out these resources for ideas:

Get in touch with Shelby, the Garden Education Coordinator, by email at

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