What if you were offered the experience of a lifetime: one that could be replicated year-round, year after year, was self-sustaining in cost, could be literally devoured by the whole family, and held was guaranteed to include captivating magic? You can expect to work hard, but you’ll love it. It’s abuzz with excitement and calming at the same time. It’s nourishing, to body, mind and soul. It’s as all-inclusive as can be. Best of all, to access you need simply go outside. If you haven’t guessed by now that we’re talking about gardening, consider chatting with any student at Red Hawk Elementary. They’ve got the full cycle of food life down, and they’re getting ready to showcase the wealth of benefits, plus their unique expertise, at their first student-run farmers market at the end of this month.
The 1500 square foot Red Hawk Elementary garden is a bustling, flourishing place of learning. With each year, the bounty yielded from student sweat, careful observation and devotion grows. What better way to celebrate the garden than to further extend the learning opportunity offered by the full agricultural experience in such a way enhances the opportunity even further? That’s why, on August 29th (Red Hawk Elementary Back-to-School Night), students will be holding the school’s first ever student-run Farmers Market from 3:30- 6:30 pm, open to the public. This fantastic event is being funded by Health & Innovation Through Education (HIE), formerly the Red Hawk Foundation, a 501(c)3 which recently changed its name to reflect its expanded mission supporting health, wellness and technology initiatives for all SVVSD students. School garden produce will be supplemented by Longmont’s Ollin Farms and other local providers, with support from SVVSD Nutrition Services. Slow Food Denver School Garden Specialist Andrew Nowak will be providing interactive Chef Demos, utilizing student assistance to teach and showcase how to prepare fresh, delicious salsa out of any garden produce. Proceeds will go toward purchase of equipment for extending the garden’s growing season, such as hoop houses or, one day, even a greenhouse.
In anticipation of the big day, students have been busily harvesting their vegetables, preparing promotional materials, and arranging logistics. Their commitment is tireless and brimming with excitement. What is the driving force behind such dedication? Students well know, throughout their time planning and tending to their garden, they have been and continue to grow with it, in countless ways.
Getting down and dirty goes way beyond dirt. Valuable lessons are continuously reaped, relating to math, science, nutrition, and so much more. Being outdoors and working with the soil provides strong, intimate connections with nature which research reveals brings vast emotional and physical benefits. The calming effect of communion with the natural environment is significantly stress-reducing, which in turn positively impacts mood, lowers blood pressure, and boosts the immune system.
While gardening may be most familiarly associated with a staid, laid-back, grown-up image, in truth it offers an enormous range of potential for physical activity. Want a workout? There’s ample opportunity to get out what you put in. Further, studies are compiling specifically pointing to the moderate to high level of activity gardening promotes in children, and the ensuing benefits. One South Korean study is being used to facilitate garden-based exercise therapeutic interventions for children aimed at both soothing emotional states and promoting a healthy and physically active lifestyle.
Of course, one of the most obvious standout benefits of involving children in the full journey of food life, from seed to plate, involves cultivating adventurous palates. It’s no secret that kids of all ages are more willing to try new foods when they had a hand in the preparation. When they were responsible for the cultivation, too? That brings along meaningful connections and sense of pride that cannot be matched. In fact, analyses of 14 studies of school and community-based garden programs reveals a notable increase in fruit and vegetable consumption following program participation.
Students at Red Hawk Elementary hope that through their activities, not least a well-received student-led Farmers Market, they can serve as a role model for other schools interested in beginning or developing their own garden programs. They’ve been putting in diligent research to ensure success. Slow Food Denver offers a farmers market toolkit which has served as a hugely helpful guide. SVVSD Nutrition Services is intrigued by the possibilities this first Farmers Market represents. “We’re so excited to see this evolve and come to fruition,” says SVVSD Wellness Coordinator Sarah Harter. “When we were first involved, we immediately began wondering, can we replicate this in other schools. It’s thrilling to see the high level of engagement on the part of the students, and their growing awareness of how their hard work is reaping rewards.”
Mark your calendars for August 29th, and come feast your eyes and tantalize your taste buds with a fresh bounty of tri-colored cherry tomatoes, corn on the cob, beets, cantaloupe, carrots, basil, heirloom tomatoes, beans and more. We promise, you’ll not only will you relish the flavors, you’ll find inspiration to savor too. Fantastic work, Red Hawk gardeners! We are so looking forward to this market and more to come. Keep on growing!