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Local Editorials

SVM EDITORIAL: Growing veggies gives kids taste of healthier diet

A new program that gives third-graders a taste of salad ingredients they grow themselves is a winner at Sterling’s Washington School. We hope it encourages healthier eating now and down the road.

Third-grader Romy Kendrick harvests baby spinach from a tower garden Friday at Washington Elementary School in Sterling. Jenah Burkitt's class harvested produce from the tower garden and had a salad party on that morning.
Third-grader Romy Kendrick harvests baby spinach from a tower garden Friday at Washington Elementary School in Sterling. Jenah Burkitt's class harvested produce from the tower garden and had a salad party on that morning.

William Shakespeare coined the phrase “salad days” in the play “Antony and Cleopatra,” attributing the words to Cleopatra as she reminisced about her days of youth and inexperience.

For some students in the Sterling Public Schools system, their “salad days” are all about youths gaining experience in growing and eating the ingredients of a healthy salad.

How can a school get kids interested in eating salads when their preferred cuisine might center more on pizza, chicken nuggets and fries?

Well, you start by assembling tower gardens in the science classrooms for all three third-grade classes at Washington Elementary School.

More than 6 feet tall, tower gardens are aeroponic planters where as many as 28 vegetable-producing plants grow with the help of water, air and nutrients, but no dirt.

You plant vegetables such as baby spinach, kale, tomatoes, dill, cucumbers and more.

You involve the children in monitoring the plants’ growth while they learn the science of germination and sprouting and things like that.

Then you teach the kids how to harvest and wash and cut up the vegetables to the point that they are ready to eat.

If you were a kid, and you watched vegetables grow for weeks, wouldn’t you be somewhat curious about how they taste?

To encourage the kids to find out, third-grade teachers at Washington Elementary have salad parties where the students get the chance to consume the veggies they’ve helped to grow.

The parties don’t consist only of the veggies. Kids can add things like carrots, cheese, bacon and ranch dressing to jazz up their salads.

Third-grade teacher Amanda Spohn and Washington Principal Lindsy Stumpenhorst collaborated on the idea, and grants from Walmart and the Sterling Schools Foundation paid for the towers, grow lights, seeds, nutrients, planting guides, lesson plans and so forth. The total cost was about $3,300.

How are the third-graders responding to all the classroom-grown vegetables that have become part of their lives?

According to teacher Jenah Burkitt: “They love it. They took ownership of it, and some of them are trying things they wouldn’t normally try.”

To us, tower gardens and salad parties are a good example of combining several educational opportunities into one. If children learn to eat healthier in the bargain, that will reap even more benefits.

Sometime in the distant future, when today’s Washington Elementary third-graders are all grown up, will they ever think back to their own “salad days” of youth and inexperience?

If they do, they’ll also likely remember it as a time of when they came to understand, and perhaps appreciate, all that goes into making a tasty vegetable salad.

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