Riverchase Day School students chop tomatoes they picked from the school’s garden.
For Riverchase Day School nutritionist and dietician Sarah Patrick, picky eater syndrome was always a non-starter.
“The idea for a teaching garden had always been there,” Patrick said.
This fall, the school’s garden project celebrates its five-year anniversary. It reflects Patrick’s shared dream with Riverchase United Methodist Day School Director Laurie Shotnik.
“The kids at our school bring their lunch, and we’d noticed a need to introduce fruits and vegetables at a really young age,” she said. “Yes, both Laurie and I have a real passion for a healthy lifestyle, but at the same time, and more importantly, kids need to learn that fruit snacks don’t grow on trees!”
So last year, Patrick developed a curriculum where the children (4K and up) receive one 30-minute nutrition lesson once each month. Lessons include a story, a discussion of healthy foods, and the highlight – a trip to the Teaching Garden where children harvest fruits and vegetables that are in season – and then return to the classroom to make healthy snacks from the bounty.
Harvesting from 10 large containers put to maximum use, students are learning to savor sweet peas in the fall (many will pick them during playground recess), as well as carrots, squash and various lettuces and cabbages. In the spring, they watch the blueberry bushes thrive. And in summer, the children enjoy okra, tomatoes and strawberries.
“Seeing their faces light up in the garden as they learn where their food comes from is so exciting to me,” Patrick said. “Planting the seeds with them in the fall and then harvesting in February is an awesome experience. These kids are living out ‘farm to table,’ and it’s got nothing to do with a four-star restaurant.”