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RISE Volunteers Mentor Young Gardeners

RISE Volunteers with the People’s Garden national leadership team at Grandview Elementary School

RISE Volunteers with the People’s Garden national leadership team at Grandview Elementary School

In 2011, Washington State University won a USDA People’s Garden School Pilot Project grant. The University used the funds to start the “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth” project, a multi-year research project that engages elementary students in creating edible gardens in schools across the country.  School gardens are an effective way to introduce kids to healthy foods and create a passion for agriculture and Washington State is helping lead the way.  We’re excited to provide an update on how the project is going. The following post was written by Brad Gaolach, the Project Director for the program.

Guest post by Brad Gaolach, Project Director, Washington State University Extension

Grandview Elementary School in Monsey, NY is one of 50 schools across the U.S. taking part in USDA’s People’s Garden School Pilot Project – “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth” (HGHY). This research and education project aims to understand the impact of school gardens on fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, science and math learning, and other outcomes.

Grandview Elementary also enjoys a unique partnership with another research project: “Retirees in Service to the Environment,” or RISE. Created by Cornell’s Institute for Translational Research on Aging, RISE provides opportunities for older adults to become involved in local environmental projects.  Research has shown there are greater mental and physical health benefits from environmental volunteering compared to other types of service. As environmental stewards, older adults not only gain from being engaged in civic issues, they also contribute their knowledge and passion to sustaining the environment for future generations.

A Cornell team of gerontology and environmental psychology researchers and educators received Federal Hatch funds through the USDA to conduct the study in New York State. The first cohort, all of them Master Gardeners from Cornell Cooperative Extension Rockland County, took part in a series of environmental trainings (covering topics such as global climate change, soil contamination, and children, nature and health) as well as leadership and communication skills development. Local coordination was provided by former Cornell Cooperative Extension Rockland County Horticulture Educator Donna Alese Cooke. In return, the volunteers committed to participating in the research study, and assisting in “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth” activities at three local schools.

Since last spring, the trained RISE Volunteers have been the project’s critical on-the-ground team, assisting with data collection activities, leading students in building the school garden, and helping 2nd grade teachers Karen Lent and Traci Gales connect the garden to classroom lessons. RISE Volunteers have been key to ensuring the project’s success; at the same time, the students have gained new gardening and life skills from their interactions. It has been a win-win for all involved!

Extension horticulture educator Donna Alese Cooke prepares students for weighing their produce. Mrs. Lent’s class made a delicious soup with the harvest.

Extension horticulture educator Donna Alese Cooke prepares students for weighing their produce. Mrs. Lent’s class made a delicious soup with the harvest.

“As a RISE Volunteer my greatest experience was harvesting the vegetables and herbs with the children and their parents during the summer. The children often eat the tomatoes, peas and string beans while still in the garden… enjoying their fresh, warm, sweet taste.  That brought joy to each of us RISE Volunteers”, says Ellen Spergel, a Master Gardener since 2011.

A 2nd cohort of Master Gardeners will be joining the research study and be trained this spring. These new RISE Volunteers will have the opportunity to start gardens at other HGHY schools later this year and help sustain these gardens as community resources for healthy eating and living. In the meantime, with the guidance of their RISE mentors, the 3rd graders at Grandview are eager to start gardening again this fall!

Leadership for Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth is provided by Washington State University Extension, in collaboration with the Cooperative Extensions of Cornell University, Iowa State University and University of Arkansas.

A RISE Volunteer harvests an edible green tomato with a 3rd grader at Grandview Elementary School.

A RISE Volunteer harvests an edible green tomato with a 3rd grader at Grandview Elementary School.

One Response to “RISE Volunteers Mentor Young Gardeners”

  1. Jane Scruggs says:

    This is really wonderful to read. I’d love to see this program grow to be nationwide (and even better, to replace all that emphasis schools now have on testing!).

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