It’s a Monday morning at Eastway Elementary and third graders are learning how healthy soil is vital to growing nutrient-rich vegetables. They’re even learning how those veggies create a healthy diet.
After the educational session, it’s time for their favorite part – getting their hands dirty. Eastway Elementary is one of few schools in Durham County with its very own school garden. This isn’t your typical elementary school elective, especially at a Title 1 school serving low-income students.
These students are participating in Junior Master Gardeners, an Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (IFFS) program taught by IFFS Geer Street Learning Garden staff. Once a month during the school year, every student in Eastway’s third grade, over 100 kids, participate in garden-based education. The program incorporates leadership skills while reinforcing core science standards.
“Students are taught different aspects of the garden but also learn to work in teams,” said Sabina Bastias, IFFS Durham Agriculture Education Coordinator. “They learn how to do critical thinking individually – it’s building leadership and ownership around the garden.”
Almost 100 percent of Eastway’s students receive free or reduced price lunch. Additionally, over 20 percent of children face food insecurity in Durham County. Junior Master Gardeners represents the shared goal between Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, Durham Public Schools, and Blue Cross NC to feed, educate, and empower Durham’s at-risk youth.
“Our kids are enjoying it, we planted an orchard in the front, and we have a vibrant garden in the back,” said Shayla Holeman, Principal at Eastway Elementary. “Kids go home and ask their families for seeds so they can start a windowsill or container garden. Families are beginning to have conversations about fresh fruits and veggies.”
Blue Cross NC’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of its customers and communities. This opportunity to fund the program is a perfect example of the organization’s focus on a healthier North Carolina. For more information on the Geer Street Learning Garden and its agriculture education programming, visit here.