First certified school garden on Arizona reservation means healthy local produce for kids

Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health and FoodCorps partner to improve the health of children living within the borders of the Navajo Nation

Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health and FoodCorps partner to improve the health of children living within the borders of the Navajo Nation

As part of its effort to address the food-related health issues facing children on the Navajo Reservation, the Tuba City Primary School will now be serving produce grown in its school garden in the cafeteria. In Arizona, school gardens must undergo an inspection and receive certification from the Arizona Department of Health Services in order for produce grown in the school garden to be served in the cafeteria. On April 7, 2015, the Tuba City Primary School became the first school on tribal land in Arizona to receive this certification.

Nearly one-third of American Indian and Alaska Native children are obese—the highest rate of any racial group in the country. Indian Health Service estimates that almost 50% of all Navajos living within the reservation are pre-diabetic or diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. The USDA classifies nearly the entire Navajo Reservation as a food desert, or area without access to affordable, fresh, healthy foods.

The Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health (JHCAIH) operates the Edible School Garden Program at the Tuba City Primary School as a part of its community-based gardening and farming initiative, Feast for the Future, which is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Christensen Fund and the Schnieders Family Foundation. JHCAIH acts as a host site for service members of the nationwide organization FoodCorps, whose AmeriCorps members are in schools teaching kids about healthy food and engaging them in hands-on cooking and gardening lessons. FoodCorps service members serving with the JHCAIH in Tuba City saw Garden to Cafeteria Certification as a worthwhile goal to pursue.

“We want our students to see gardening as a real way to provide food for themselves. Prior to receiving Garden to Cafeteria Certification, the garden was an invaluable educational tool, but we were challenged to find ways to get the food back to the kids,” says Will Conway, FoodCorps service member. “Getting the garden certified ensures that vegetables will make it onto children’s plates.”

Now that the school garden is certified, children can enjoy the produce they grow in their school garden at lunch. The first harvest of the 2015 growing season brought red and green lettuce onto the lunch trays of smiling kindergartners through third graders. As the growing season progresses, the volume of produce will increase and the 1,500 square foot garden will provide a diverse selection of vegetables for kids to incorporate into their daily lunches. Garden produce will be available to children throughout the summer through summer school programming. An on-campus high tunnel creates the environment needed to grow greens during colder winter months. 

“This certification is part of our larger program goal to address barriers to healthy food access and ultimately reduce alarming rates of obesity and diabetes,” says Kristen Speakman, a Johns Hopkins faculty member and Feast for the Future Program Manager. “The accomplishment in Tuba City is significant and is a wonderful model for other rural reservation-based schools to follow.”

About FoodCorps:

FoodCorps is a nonprofit national service organization that strives to give all youth an enduring relationship with healthy food. FoodCorps service members teach hands-on lessons about food and nutrition, build and tend school gardens, and teach cooking lessons, and help change what’s on lunch trays, giving kids healthy food from local farms. Visit foodcorps.org to learn more.

About Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health:

The Center for American Indian Health was founded in 1991 at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, with the mission to raise the health status, self-sufficiency and health leadership of Native peoples to the highest possible level. With 10 field offices in tribal communities across the Southwest, the Center’s administrative offices are in Baltimore and Albuquerque. Working in partnership with tribes, the Center has achieved landmark public health breakthroughs to prevent pediatric diseases that are now credited with saving millions of children’s lives worldwide. The Center’s current work focuses on the critical needs of Native communities today, including obesity, diabetes, suicide, depression, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS and promotion of higher education. More than 50 tribal communities around the country have adopted the Center’s evidence-based programs and dozens of Native health workers have received graduate and doctoral education at Johns Hopkins through its public health scholarship program. To learn more, visit jhsph.edu/caih.

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