blog header image

Can a Garden Change a Life?

Tom Sullivan

December 13, 2016
Tom Sullivan

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a strategic planning session with the Partnership for a Healthier America (Let’s Move! Active Schools) alongside a group of corporate, non-profit, programmatic and education leaders and innovators.

The purpose of the session was to develop a bold but achievable vision and framework to create a school and community culture where physical activity, physical education, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle is the norm rather than the exception. The following morning, we enjoyed an inspiring reception and were treated to a tour of the White House Garden.

White House Garden

I did not expect to see such a full and thriving array of vegetables, chards, lettuces and herbs filling most of the 1,100 square foot garden on a cold December morning. The tour guide told us that Alice Waters, the chef owner of the famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley, was an early public advocate and inspirer of this garden.  Alice is also an advocate on the national level for school lunch reform and universal access to healthy, organic foods.

Mrs. Obama embraced the concept, not just as a way to get more fruits and vegetables in her daughters’ diets, but to support a movement for Americans to increase their intake of healthy, organic and locally-sourced foods. The First Lady and the Partnership for a Healthier America knows that if we can educate, inspire and engage our kids with healthy fruits and vegetables, they in turn will educate their families and communities and begin to develop healthy habits for a lifetime.

The question that came to my mind was simple: “Can learning about and tending to a garden really change a child’s behavior?” In recent discussions with the Captain Planet Foundation, the answer is a resounding “yes,” based on the success of their Project Learning Garden curricula and program.  Project Learning Garden has impacted half of the schools in the greater Atlanta area and is connected to an ecosystem of community gardens as well. Their success is now spreading nationwide.

I was lucky to also receive an unsolicited email from Sue Wicks, WNBA Hall of Famer and co-founder of Fight2Bfit, regarding another program she likes called Bloomers! Schoolyard. This hands-on gardening and healthy eating program that targets early learners also integrates hands-on lessons to combat poor nutrition in disadvantaged areas and schools. Bloomers has discovered that “96% of children will eat a vegetable if they’ve grown it.”

So, can a garden change a life? These great programs are already demonstrating that the answer is yes. After feeling inspired by my trip to the White House and these very programs, I’ve decided my personal resolution for 2017 will be to create my own garden beyond the basic tomatoes in a pot. I will aim to eat as many healthy vegetables in as many creative ways as possible. Perhaps it will change my life.