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Busy Garden Bees at Growing Sustainably

Author: Shelby Maidl, Project Coordinator for Growing Sustainably

Spring has sprung in the Growing Sustainably school gardens. Students have been busy, attending Garden Club and Cooking Matters classes after school and Garden Education during their school day. At McKinley Elementary Garden Club, they worked with their instructors (interns from San José State University) to build a trellis for the winding vines of pea plants, and the 6th graders conducted an experiment on soil particle sizes.

Building the pea trellis at McKinley Garden Club

Garden Club at Horace Mann Elementary got to harvest lettuce plants, bunches of cilantro, and, for the boldest of the group, hot red chilis. They’re also learning about pollination and the importance of protecting bees. This Spring, students got to do an egg hunt through their garden, but the eggs had an unexpected prize– instead of candy, they found wildflower seeds to take home and spread, an easy yet crucial strategy for building healthy bee habitats.

Harvesting lettuce at Horace Mann Garden Club

At Olinder Elementary School, students in Cooking Matters celebrated their graduation from the program by designing a full menu and enjoying it outside for a picnic.

Cooking Matters students are excited about their healthy snack

The students’ garden education culminated in a field trip to Garden to Table, an urban farm that flourishes underneath a freeway ramp. They got to see sustainable gardening in action– they learned about worms, compost, chickens, and even helped plant new tomatoes.

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Growing Sustainably’s primary goal is to engage students in STEM education through gardening and cooking activities. But beyond the knowledge and skills we transfer to the youth, it is also important for us to nourish their health. A healthy snack is always provided to the youth, typically including fresh fruits and vegetables. Kids expend energy through learning, working, and playing; keeping them full with healthy, nutritious foods is key to ensuring they can perform in school and activities to their highest potential.

Summer Nutrition Gap

In the last Growing Sustainably blog post, we discussed the barriers many families in our schools face in accessing enough affordable and nutritious food. To be eligible for free school meals, a family of four needs to make an annual income of $31,980 or less. The majority of students at schools served by Growing Sustainably are eligible for free school lunches.

San José school with Growing Sustainably program % of students receiving free meals through the National School Lunch & Breakfast Programs (as of 2013-2014)
Horace Mann Elementary 76%
McKinley Elementary 82.9%
Selma Olinder Elementary 93%


During the school year, students across the country are also provided free breakfast, dinner, snacks, and weekend food to take home. For students that rely on school food programming, summer vacation can be a time of food insecurity and hunger. Lack of access to sufficient, nutritious food can impact children’s health well into adulthood. They may struggle with academic and behavioral issues in school, can adopt unhealthy eating habits like binge eating when food is available, and can experience chronic health issues such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease.

In California, 1.7 million children fall into what is called the summer nutrition gap; 85% of children who receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year do not access similar food programming during the summer. Top barriers to accessing summer food programs include lack of knowledge about available programs and children’s lack of transportation to food sites.

Summer Food Resources

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program is one national effort to fill the hunger gap for youth. In the summer of 2017, they plan to serve more than 200 million free meals to low-income youth 18 years old and younger. You can find summer meals in your community through the USDA Food and Nutrition Service page and the California Department of Education page, by searching with your zip code. These resources are updated weekly, so check back throughout the summer.

Another key place to find out about food resources in your community is through Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. You can call their Food Connection Hotline at 1-800-984-3663 to learn about free meals, food sites, and summer resources in your neighborhood. Call Monday-Friday, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm. Staff members speak English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Tagalog.

Take Action for your Community

If you and your family would like to fight hunger in your community, now is the time– the summer months are the most demanding on food banks. Donate food or money to food banks at the start of the summer, rather than during the holiday season. Volunteer to serve or transport food, or advertise summer food programs to help more youth access the nutrition they need. Offer transportation to youth you know that may need assistance getting to local summer programs.

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