Washington State First Lady Trudi Inslee visited DeLong Elementary School on Oct. 8 to take part in a major announcement with United Health Foundation and Whole Kids Foundation – 24 grants totaling $48,000 to Washington schools to develop or expand existing vegetable gardens or beehives, and provide educational resources about agriculture, caring for the environment and maintaining healthy lifestyles. In addition to DeLong Elementary, in Tacoma Bryant Montessori and Families Inspiring Leaders Academy are also grant recipients.
Joining Inslee to make the announcement were Whole Kids Foundation President and Executive Director Nona Evans, and UnitedHealthcare Pacific Northwest States CEO Claire Verity. DeLong staff and volunteers joined in the event, including Principal Eric Konishi.
“The garden has a lot of benefits for many, many students,” Konishi said. “It provides them with the opportunity to literally get their hands dirty and learn about the importance of growing plants and how living healthy can benefit them later on in life.”
The announcement event also included DeLong students, as it was the 5th grade class that designed the garden, working on different layouts to create the one that fit best. After a vote among 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, and Principal Konishi, the perfect layout was chosen to include eight garden beds in a 216 square-foot space with walkways and “room to grow,” so to speak.
In the springtime for the past couple of years, students were invited to spend their recess time taking part in a recess garden club, and the children said that they even enjoy pulling weeds because it helps the plants to grow. Little student Isabel handed out “ground cherries” that sprang up, much to the students’ surprise, so that everyone present could see what they taste like. “Some people think they’re delicious, and some people think they’re disgusting,” she said as the grown-ups chuckled.
“We all know from listening to these students how important gardening is to having healthy nutrition and developing great habits,” Inslee told the crowd. “The students told me they’ve made things like fresh salsa and zucchini bread – and I liked that little ground cherry!”
Inslee said that “it’s common sense” to teach children where food comes from. “It’s a great partnership with these organizations that are willing to give grants to help schools fill in for funds where they wouldn’t have them otherwise.”
Through collaboration with community partners, grants and outreach efforts, the non-profit United Health Foundation works to improve our health system, build a diverse and dynamic health workforce and enhance the wellbeing of local communities. To date, United Health Foundation has committed $430 million to programs and communities around the world.
“This (the grants) has been a work in progress over the past 12 months and I’m really proud to see it come to fruition here at DeLong Elementary School,” said UnitedHealthcare Pacific Northwest States CEO Claire Verity. “It’s nice to see the bountiful results of great gardening.”
The non-profit Whole Kids Foundation, a Whole Foods Market foundation based in Austin, works to empower schools and inspire families to help children reach optimal health through the strength of a healthy body fueled by nutritious food.
“The kind of gardens like DeLong has really can change the trajectory of childhood health for the next generation,” said its president and executive director Evans. “When kids have a garden, they’re more willing to try a whole range of new foods, and that affects their healthy habits for a lifetime.”
After the grant announcement, Inslee joined education and health care leaders, including Washington State Representative Laurie Jinkins, for a roundtable discussion about health challenges facing Washington communities, including food insecurity, obesity and other social determinants of health, and possible local solutions to address these challenges. Studies show that school gardening, combined with a healthy lunch program or nutrition education, encourage healthier food choices. Children are also more likely to eat fruits and vegetables they have grown themselves.
According to America’s Health Rankings, Washington youth rank seventh out of 50 states with more than 30 percent of children ages 10-17 overweight or obese.
“Food insecurity, including food deserts, obesity and diabetes are serious health concerns that can be alleviated through better awareness and familiarity with growing and preparing healthy meals,” said Verity. “On behalf of United Health Foundation, we are grateful for the opportunity to support these organizations instilling healthy habits and setting students on the path to success.”