Veggie U: Teaching kids to grow, harvest and thrive on fresh veggies

How many times have you tried to talk a child into eating their veggies?  It’s a monumental task in some households.  Equally daunting is the fight against childhood obesity.  But the green-thumbed folks at Veggie U and their partner teachers are helping fight that battle…one vegetable at a time. 

Veggie U set up

I came into contact with the non-profit while attending a speaker I featured in a previous post (Robyn O’Brien).  I was immediately drawn to their display of seedlings and indoor grow lights.  When I started inquiring about who they are and what they do, I knew it was something worth sharing.

Veggie U tasting

The mission of Veggie U is to teach kids about where vegetables come from, and how they grow.  And the idea is if they understand it better and take pride in cultivating them, they are more likely to eat them.

veggie u feast day

It was started by a family of farmers in Milan, Ohio…the same people behind The Chef’s Garden which focuses their output on the need of chefs.  Several local chefs are also involved in supporting the program, as it educates the next generation of restaurant-goers about good food.

Veggie U lesson plan

The organization provides schools with everything they’ll need for an indoor garden.  They ship the seeds, soil, grow lights, root viewers…even composting worms (a big hit among the 3rd grade boys, I’m told).  They provide 25 one hour science-based lessons that can be taught during designated plant science or health class time.  The classroom eventually harvests 17 different vegetables, showcasing them in a “feast day.”

Veggie U studying

“I have always been interested in helping my students make better choices about food and daily exercise and this was the greatest gift to have a program that was designed to do just that. To top it off, it was already aligned with the Ohio Academic Content standards-Extended version (which are used for students with learning disabilities). This was such a bonus as an educator, to have a complete comprehensive curriculum that was already aligned with the standards and had all the materials that you needed to teach sensory friendly lessons of such an important nature,” said Kristin Dickerhoff, Intervention Specialist at Murray Ridge School.

veggie u teacher

Dickerhoff’s classroom has students with Autism, many who have severe sensory issues and avoid various food textures and smells.  Those kids often fixate on a narrow list of foods and therefore don’t get proper nutrition.

“Having the Veggie University curriculum and the opportunity to show children hands on how “Good Food” reaches their plates was such a blessing.  I was completely blown away at how these precious students who on a typical day would only choose to munch on crunchy chips or soft yogurt were trying raw veggies during the first week’s “veggie Testing” lesson,” said Dickerhoff.

Veggie U comparing soil

Now that Veggie U is part of their routine, Dickerhoff has launched “Healthy Snack Wednesday” in their Primary wing of 50 students.  Each week every student in the wing gets a healthy snack prepared by her class and delivered to each classroom.  Her special needs kids use this opportunity to practice communication skills during drop off.

“I can’t say enough about how much this curriculum has changed the lives of each and every one of my students and how it has evolved into so much more,” said Dickerhoff.

veggie u shipping

Shipping is their number one expense.  Kits are put together by volunteers, but they run $450 for new kits, $225 for refills or renewals.  They operate through grants, corporate sponsors, fundraisers and sponsorship.  Only 6% of schools fund their own programs.

The take-aways are real.  Veggie U reports a 30% improvement in willingness to eat veggies among their graduates.  Students develop writing skills as they journal the process.  Even vocabulary skill are incorporated. (Examples: hypothesis, variable, conclusion, germinate)

Veggie U watering

Veggie U is now in 36 states and 6,500 classrooms, with more than 164,000 graduates.  They have indoor gardens in every Cleveland Metropolitan School District elementary building, as well as Toledo, Akron and Canton schools.  They’re currently trying to grow their presence in Hawaii, where 85% of their food is imported, hoping to encourage future farmers.

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