How Access to Gardens and Farms Helps Texas Students

UNICEF declared 2014 The International Year of Family Farming to help effectively combat poverty and hunger. 

This past holiday, I gave my mom a watch that not only measures her heart rate, steps taken, calories burned, sleep patterns, and sweat, but also allows her to upload all of her data to an online system so she has a continuous measure of these indicators on a really cool graph (my opinion).

After wearing it for a week or so, I was excited to hear what she had discovered– when was her heart rate highest, in her boxing class or body pump? When did she sweat the most, in Pilates class or biking? Her results were surprising— her exercise classes were getting her heart rate up and keeping her healthy, but the data showed that her heart rate and number of calories burned were highest when she was gardening and doing yard work, not when she was in exercise class.

As a devotee of exercise classes myself, it is always good to be reminded that every day activities are the original exercise class. We frequently try to create opportunities to counterbalance lives that involve long hours seated at a desk and behind the wheel of a car. The same couldn’t be truer for our kids.

We know from research that kids are not as physically active as they used to be, and their fitness and health are suffering as a consequence. At Texans Care for Children, we think there is a lot our schools could do help with this problem. First, Texas schools could stop reducing opportunities for kids to be physically active, and our Legislature could support their efforts to improve student health, an indicator closely related to academic achievement.

Second, schools could improve access to community and school gardens, local farms, and strengthen farm-to-school linkages. School gardens are a learning opportunity that can incorporate Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) as well as food and nutrition lessons. Ensuring all children have opportunities to be active is critical, but activity doesn’t just have to happen in a P.E. class. It can also happen while kids are gardening and learning about math, science, gardening, agricultural systems, and sustainable development. As my mom’s new watch reminded me, the benefits from gardening are beyond educational; they are physical as well. This coming Session, we hope to work with our agricultural partners to develop the types of policies that extend these benefits to many more Texas students. Hope you will stay tuned!