After a long day of work, Crystal Carroll is pleased to come home and have her son Emerson, a fourth-grader, help her with dinner. "He loves to cook," says the Miami mother of two. "He picks Cuban oregano, tomatoes, and cilantro from our garden and knows what to do with it, and it's all because of the garden club at his school."
This doesn't surprise Carmen Boyd, the principal of Emerson's school, Phyllis Ruth Miller Elementary, in Miami. "I've had so many parents come up to me and say that as a result of our garden, they have decided to start their own little garden at home. Some parents who live in apartments have even bought wooden boxes for windowsills. The kids know exactly what to do."
Less than two years ago, the school broke ground on its first garden, which was part of the Citi Gardens® Grown with The Education Fund initiative. The school is one of 51 across Miami-Dade County to grow gardens thanks to funds from Citi, paving the way for school-based food forests that give students and their families access to fresh produce. "From planting to harvesting, every grade level is responsible for a section of the garden," says Boyd. "It has brought learning to life."
Exposing kids to fruits and vegetables in this way seems to be expanding their palate, too. "Our children will try everything now, and they know that food doesn't just come from the grocery store," Boyd says. "The first time they grew strawberries, they were so proud."
Coming home to a fourth-grader who helps you prep dinner? That's a bonus!
Besides offering hands-on lessons about general science and nature, the garden hosts writing and art classes. "All the garden signs were created and drawn by the kids, and Emerson has written about what he sees and learned from the garden," says Carroll, whose 12-year-old daughter, Kennedy, was part of the first group of students who helped plant the garden. The benefits extend beyond academics. "Learning to chop and peel has improved Emerson's dexterity," she adds.
An active member of the school garden club since third grade, Emerson scored the chance to cook alongside one of Miami's beloved chefs, SUGARCANE raw bar grill's chef Timon Balloo, during a special event last year. They even used produce from the school garden. "His favorite is the cranberry lettuce," says Carroll.
But students don't have to join the garden club to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The cafeteria often serves everything from tomatoes to herbs from the garden's bounty. Additionally, students and their families receive weekly distributions of crops from the garden to take home. "So many people are interested in it, we increased parental involvement," says Boyd.
Clearly that engagement includes families such as the Carrolls. "My kids have seen the bugs and caterpillars and how they play a role in the planting process, but they've also walked away with a good idea of where our food comes from and what it takes for us to be able to eat it every night," Carroll says. Coming home to a fourth-grader who helps you prep dinner? "That's a bonus!"
Click here if you're interested in learning more about how Citi is tackling the issue of food access from the ground up in schools across the country.