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Our Growing Sustainably Pledge

Author: Nancy Nguyen, Garden Education Coordinator

McKinley 2nd grade student watering broccoli and carrot plants.

What is Growing Sustainably?

Kids love to eat and play outside. CommUniverCity’s Growing Sustainably program uses outdoor classrooms to work with elementary school students in Central San Jose to nurture an appreciation for the natural environment and fresh, nutritious foods. This is the pledge we make every day to honor the world in which we live. The program introduces students to tools they can use to take actions that benefit themselves and the natural environment. Growing Sustainably consists of three types of workshops: garden education, after-school garden club, and after-school cooking class. We currently have 13 SJSU volunteers from communications, environmental science, and nutrition education backgrounds who are teaching Growing Sustainably programming to about 200 students combined at McKinley, Horace Mann, Olinder, and Lowell Elementary schools. With a geographic focus on Central San Jose, Growing Sustainably helps educate local youth about several topics surrounding garden education and healthy eating. Through hands-on activities, local youth actively engage with SJSU volunteers to gain a better understanding of how to make healthy choices, the plant life cycle, and how to create low-cost healthy meals. Just last year, Growing Sustainably engaged over 15 SJSU students and 60 elementary school students.

By mirroring current societal concerns around sustainability and nutrition, Growing Sustainably creates a kid-friendly platform for young students to engage with topics surrounding how to make healthy food choices at the store and a restaurant, helping students understand nutrition information accompanied by following recipes, recycling, how composting works, and the influence of climate change. Each of these themes help facilitate an environment for young students to learn more about the importance of healthy living.

Learn more about the positive impact of the program on students in the following topics of Growing Sustainably and current environmental issues, what students can do, and the role of healthy food.

Horace Mann Elementary students preparing a rooftop garden bed for planting.

Current Issues

In light of celebrating Earth Day in April, it is important to remember why this day greatly needs our attention and action. The most pressing environmental issue of our time is climate change – and the students know it already. While they are not entirely sure of the specific language as to which pollutants and greenhouse gases are called what, they do understand the role of pollutions in negatively impacting our world. Student participants in this spring’s program see the connection between climate change and human activity. They describe it in statements such as “the world warming up because of pollution” and know that climate change can cause “hurricanes, tsunamis, and droughts.” This spring, student participants were visibly curious about understanding how their actions affect our world we.

What Can We Do

“By gardening! Because we are planting more and there’s more oxygen,” responded one student when asked about ways to combat climate change. “Through planting trees and plants for free where we live so we don’t have to go buy stuff in the store,” explained another avid fan of the after-school garden club. By asking students questions around these issues, Growing Sustainably focuses on facilitating critical thinking to help students understand the impact of their actions through an environmental and nutritional context. The goal of our workshops is for students to feel empowered to take personal action and advocate on issues that matter to them.

Freshly picked carrot plants with 4th grade McKinley students.

Healthy Food

In Growing Sustainably workshops, students learn about the value of eating seasonally and locally grown food as a way to reduce their carbon and water footprints. Every class we’ve had so far in 2018 has ended with students getting at least one ‘treat,’ ranging from tomatoes and eggplants to cantaloupes and oranges. Students even have the opportunity to ‘win’ a number of these ‘treats,’ encouraging active participation where students who raise their hands and answer questions win fruits and vegetables to share with their family. SJSU student instructors nurture an appreciation for fruits and vegetables in their younger counterparts by framing fresh produce in a positive light rather than something one has to eat just because it is healthy. There is much more value in creating excitement around healthy eating. Consequently, one of Growing Sustainably’s teaching mottos is “just try this one time to see if you like it?” This empowers students to decide what they want to eat and when. In Growing Sustainably, students learn how to make good eating choices that will last them a lifetime.

Want to make you and your environment healthier and more vibrant?

Get in touch with Nancy Nguyen, Garden Education Coordinator, by email,

Horace Mann Elementary students making banana sun butter sandwiches with whole wheat bread.

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