nutrition

EPA Grant to Schools Helps Bring Green Thumbs and Healthy Eating to Kirksville, Mo.

Introduction by Kathleen L. Fenton

Teagan Scheurer and Levi Boyer plant pumpkin seeds at the Early Childhood Learning Center. Children will also help harvest the vegetables from their seeds.

Teagan Scheurer and Levi Boyer plant pumpkin seeds at the Early Childhood Learning Center. Children will also help harvest the vegetables from their seeds.

EPA Region 7 awarded an Environmental Education grant in late 2015 that is funding gardening lessons and nutrition classes in the Kirksville School District in Kirksville, Mo. Karen Keck, project manager, has engaged various youth as students, interns and volunteers, not to mention the city’s businesses and senior residents.

Many hands-on, outdoor activities happened this summer. The following blog by Karen gives just a taste of what was accomplished. Besides the good work of the school district, my favorite part of this grant is seeing the happy faces of the students, as they learn about and engage in their environment.

By Karen Keck

The Green Thumb Project had a great summer of activities through the work of people taking the lead on projects at the school and in the community. Four summer interns and our grant coordinator, Josh Ellerman, and an AmeriCorps member, Derek Franklin, were employed in educating various groups about gardening and healthy eating.

Derek Franklin works with a Village 76 resident and Green Thumb Intern Kaitlyn Meyer to check the health of the "veggie squares," personal gardens created for residents.

Derek Franklin works with a Village 76 resident and Green Thumb Intern Kaitlyn Meyer to check the health of the “veggie squares,” personal gardens created for residents.

Intern Cole Haugen maintained the garden at the Early Childhood Learning Center. Additionally, Cole presented interactive lessons to the children who attend the center during the summer.

Kaitlyn Meyer and Becca Elder were supported by the Kirksville Housing Authority to build, maintain and move “veggie squares” (4-by-4 raised beds) outside the doors of elderly residents at an independent living community, Village 76. They held events with this community through the summer, usually involving vegetables and herbs and plenty of conversation. Kaitlyn and Becca also contributed to educational activities at a subsidized housing area in Kirksville.

Amanda Thomas was hired to make t-shirts for the project, spruce up the learning garden at the schools, and find creative ways to advertise the project throughout the city. Justin McKean also worked at the learning garden, weeding and planting to keep it looking good throughout the summer and making sure it would be ready to use for classes and after-school programs when classes began.

EPA's Kris Lancaster participates in an outdoor environmental education program, sponsored by the Kirksville School District in partnership with the Green Thumb Project.

EPA’s Kris Lancaster (left) participates in an outdoor environmental education program, sponsored by the Kirksville School District in partnership with the Green Thumb Project.

Together, they led a “Seed to Plate” camp and presented garden programs to children enrolled in a YMCA summer program. Overall, a variety of engaging activities were implemented for a wide variety of people in Kirksville!

About the Introducer: Kathleen L. Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

About the Author: Karen Keck is the outdoor education coordinator for the Kirksville School District, and teaches environmental science, earth science and biology at Kirksville High School. She is the current chairperson of the Green Thumb Project Board of Advisors.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Sugar Rush

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been giving people quite the scare for some time now. It is a belief that the introduction of this product into our diet was the reason for increasing obesity in America; that the simple elimination of the product in our diets would make us lose that extra weight the American public has gained. Like many other Americans I believed this myth that HFCS was worse for you than the other sugars out there: honey, cane sugar, and brown sugar. But like many Americans, I was wrong. I used to read every label that I thought may have HFCS in it, and if it did I would put it back down and refrain from consuming the “evil” substance.

Just this year I have learned that HFCS is not as harmful as I thought it was. However, like other sugars, high fructose corn syrup should only be ingested in small amounts. The main reasoning for manufacturers to use HFCS as opposed to other sugars is that it is cheaper .

When choosing what food to eat, it helps to know what you are actually eating. Some foods that you wouldn’t expect to have sugar in it do, and thus it is still important to be aware of what contents you are actually eating. The best ways to go about doing this are to eat foods that are in their most natural form. This includes organic produce and excludes packaged foods. If you are choosing a food or drink item that has a variety of ingredients it may be important to read the ingredients and nutrition facts as HFCS is becoming more prevalent in foods that were once exempt of sugar additives.

The foods that many kids, and adults, find to be the most delicious are usually those foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. Kids especially are drawn to the sugary drinks and foods that are becoming more prevalent in our grocery stores and fast-food restaurants. Persuading children to eat fresher and healthier foods may be difficult, but will prove to be more beneficial for their health now and in the future. It is important to remember that high fructose corn syrup is still a type of sugar and should only be consumed in moderation.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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CHILDHOOD OBESITY PART I: Healthy Diets

For the past two years I have been volunteering at a local elementary school in my hometown. Only recently did I have a chance to see the cafeteria. Scanning the trays I saw the “typical” cafeteria foods : pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers. Rarely did I see fruits and vegetables, but I always saw some sort of sweet on nearly every tray in the cafeteria.

This is part of the reason why there is a childhood obesity epidemic taking over the county. Kids are simply eating the foods that they like best, most of these foods being processed and lacking the essential nutrients that their bodies need.

Unhealthy diets do not only reside in the school, however. With the increasing amounts of microwavable meals and packaged foods, a home-cooked meal is quickly becoming a rarity and a thing of the past. We are trading health for convenience. Popping something into the microwave or oven takes less energy and time than making a home-cooked meal. The nutrients that we could be getting from fruits and vegetable are overshadowed by these extremely processed foods. Theses foods are often high in fat, sugars, and calories and lacking important nutrients that aren’t only harmful to the health of children, but to adults as well. Adults must then serve as an example. If they are eating well then their children will eat well also.

Children are almost completely reliant on their authority figures to provide them with appropriate meals. Therefore, it is important that we go to those authority figures, the school administrators and the parents, to encourage healthy diets for children. There must be a shift in the way that children are eating. No more should their staple foods be that of pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers. More fresh and prepared meals must be given to children.

It may take a little more time and effort to make home-cooked meals or pack a child’s lunch, but the small amount of time and effort added to preparing healthy foods should not be overridden by the health benefits. Also, the packing of a school lunch and preparation of a meal can be a learning experience for children as they can learn how to cook and pack their own lunches while learning about what foods are wholesome.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.