Growing Healthy Eating Habits: A Recipe for Success
You likely know Dr. Bruce Birk as a warm, funny, light-hearted pediatrician who often distinguishes himself from “the other Dr. Buerk” as “the one with the beard.” But you may not know that one of the many topics Dr. Birk takes quite seriously is nutrition. Dr. Birk’s passion for educating children and adults about proper nutrition, coupled with his handy carpentry skills and gardening hobby, led him to volunteer at the Abernethy School Kitchen Garden Program. It’s a place where his talents, skills, and passion meet.
The Abernethy School Kitchen Garden Program provides children with “a comprehensive food-based education, a thriving on-site garden, and an engaged community that supports farm-to-table values.” www.gardenofwonders.org “This program is so successful because it is integrated into the school curriculum,” says Abby Bokman, Abernethy parent and School Kitchen Garden Committee member. The curriculum is now fully integrated into the Common CORE standards, so students are learning math by calculating the perimeter and area of the garden beds, measuring the growth of the plants, and the space between seeds. They’re writing reports about what is growing in the garden, and learning the life cycle of the plants they’re growing. Kids have the opportunity to taste and explore where food comes from. The program is hands-on, with students working alongside teachers and parents, participating in all that goes into making a garden grow: planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, composting, as well as cultivating a worm bin.
“It’s distinctly noted that when kids are part of the gardening process, they’re much more likely to appreciate – not just try—new foods, and also enjoy those foods as they associate the experience with the pleasant feelings of pride and accomplishment,” says Dr. Birk, whose own children attend Abernethy Elementary. “I’m really happy to be a part of it. And I’m proud that as a clinic, we support these ideas, not just with our words, but with our hands and our time and our money.” In addition to Dr. Birk’s efforts building and maintaining garden boxes, Pediatric Associates of the Northwest contributes to the program financially, supplementing the efforts of the Abernethy PTA.
Abernethy Elementary school cafeteria uses the food harvested from the garden. “We set a high standard for school lunches!” says Dr. Birk. The former Kitchen Chef, Nicole Hoffman, was honored at the White House for her work that set an example of what school kitchen gardens can do. The school kitchen staff works to include recipes that use whatever the garden is producing the most; the recipes are then sent out to Abernethy families to recreate at home. “This program provides a wonderful opportunity to learn about good nutrition as children – and that’s something they can take with them,” says Bokman, who reports that her own children are “very adventurous eaters, which I believe comes from being so much more aware of food sources, and having grown the food themselves.”
During the summer months when school is not in session, Abernethy parents and students sign up for a week during which they continue to take care of the garden. Their reward: bringing home whatever is ready to harvest.
Abernethy’s nationally recognized School Kitchen Garden Program has also started a Garden Afterschool Program to extend and support the education provided through School Kitchen Garden. Administration of the Garden Afterschool Program is all volunteer, and the proceeds are in support of the PTA.
For more information about the Abernethy School Garden Kitchen Program, or to learn more about how to start a garden at your own school, visit www.gardenofwonders.org.