Sutter Health Plus Helps The HEAL Project Garden Grow
In 2015, The HEAL Project garden at Hatch Elementary School in Half Moon Bay was demolished by new construction, upsetting the children, teachers and parents. This year’s donation of $43,333 from Sutter Health Plus will enable The HEAL Project to resume the popular 10-year-old project that introduces hands-on gardening and healthy cooking lessons to hundreds of San Mateo County elementary school students.
This year, The HEAL Project is able to provide their Intensive Garden Program (IGP) to 220 second and third grade students, and the Garden Club project to 330 first, fourth and fifth graders. Some of the Sutter Health Plus funds will be used to set up a new water catchment system from the roof of the building next to the gardens, and an automatic irrigation system. Currently, the gardens are hand-watered by buckets of city water.
Founded in 2006, The HEAL Project teaches students to make healthy choices for themselves and their world by providing learning opportunities for health, environment, agriculture and learning. From weekly hands-on lessons, to garden maintenance and learning to cook with specialty crops, the program provides crucial education that helps fight obesity and its associated health risks.
For the Rodriguez family, The HEAL Project started as an outdoor adventure for cousins Roman, Matthew, Raul and Julio, who completed the classroom and garden program at Hatch Elementary School from 2010 to 2014.
As the young boys learned the basics of turning seeds into plants and producing the food we eat, their enthusiasm took root with their mother and aunt, Veronica. Inspired by the lessons they learned in The HEAL Project, they began planting sunflower seeds and vegetables at home, welcoming their first harvest last fall. Two years after the last child completed the program, they are still growing sunflowers and vegetables that started from those original seeds, and having fun making healthy meals together.
The HEAL Project director Amy Bono-Kruckewitt notes that the program has come full circle, with many children continuing to volunteer in the gardens or on the school farm long after they graduate.
“Our children and their families love to help sell flowers and food from the farm at our local farmers’ market,” she says. “Some of the kids who experienced the program 10 years ago still want to come back and be a part of the farm and the community.”
The HEAL Project instructor, Kali Burke (known as “Miss K” to the children), offers hands-on learning about natural food and cooking. Kali currently works with more than 100 kids in five classes, and loves every minute of it. It’s a win for the school, the kids, the parents and the community, she says.
“I love hearing the kids tell others ‘don’t yuck my yum’. They are trying new foods, and telling their parents about their new love of fruits and vegetables.”
To measure the impact of The HEAL Project on learning, standardized science scores of the two elementary schools that have The HEAL Project garden program will be compared with two schools that do not have the program in the Cabrillo Unified School District.
“The beauty of our remote coastside location is that there is an opportunity to track students’ standardized science test scores from elementary through high school,” Amy adds.
For the children in San Mateo County’s coastside elementary schools who are lucky enough to be a part of the program, their young lives will never be the same. The small seeds of learning have grown into a life-long love of healthy and fresh foods, the outdoors, physical activity and being an important part of their community.
For more information, visit www.theHEALproject.org.