Lower-income households often face nutritional challenges, but depending on where the household is located, problems consuming enough nourishment vary. In urban areas, the problem lies around cheaper, closer options. The only access people have to food is in the form of fast food restaurants or grocers that don’t offer healthy choices. However, in rural areas, grocery stores could be as far as ten miles away from any given family. Traveling to buy food is an added expense, one that exacerbates the already tight money supply of some households. Landscapes that don’t supply readily available or healthy food choices for people are known as food deserts, often found in both rural and urban areas.
Given this information, it doesn’t come as a surprise that lower income households consume less fruits and vegetables, and have poorer diets, compared to higher income households. Many lower income households have few to no fruits and vegetables at all included in daily meals. Lacking valuable vitamins that come from fruits and vegetables can cause malnutrition and obesity, especially when combined with consuming foods high in fat, sodium, and sugar that are often more affordable.
While speaking with a few of The Lincoln Center’s Leadership Academy students, they agreed that if they did not drive or have a family member who drives, they could not get to a grocery store or a Walmart without getting on some type of highway. Students also stated that there are fruits and vegetables that they have never heard of or had and they were unaware that some of these fruits and veggies could be grown in our own backyards.
Having spoken to our students last year and this year, I thought about the importance of consuming nutritious and vitamin-rich food, and how valuable it would be to them to know how to make more fresh produce available to themselves and their families. We then decided to start a greenhouse at the Leadership Academy, and in the greenhouse the students could grow fruits and vegetables of their choice.
Before growing their chosen fruit or vegetable, students built the greenhouse themselves from a greenhouse kit and did research projects on how to grow their specific food and the food’s nutritional value. They presented their projects to a panel of teachers and, once approved, students were able to plant their fruits and veggies and take care of them. Once the weather gets warmer, students will transport their plants from the classroom to the greenhouse to further grow. Their produce can be used to prepare lunch or meals during family consumer sciences classes. The students are excited because if the greenhouse produces an abundance of nutritional food options, they may be able to bring produce home or donate any extra produce to local shelters.
Students knowing how they can provide for themselves is a step in forming a healthy diet on a low budget. If more schools had gardening or hands-on nutritional learning worked into their curriculum, such as instructions on buying seeds and starting a garden, more nutritious foods would be more easily accessible to students, families, and communities. Seeing the Leadership Academy students care for their plants, get excited about fresh produce, and plan how to use the food is an amazing experience, and one that, if employed throughout more curriculums, could change the way we eat.
By Candace McCoy
Candace McCoy is a science teacher at The Lincoln Center’s Leadership Academy and a professor at Delaware County Community College and Bucks County Community College. She is currently working on her Master’s in Education. Before becoming a teacher, Candace worked in the healthcare industry for ten years and brings her passion for healthy living to the classroom.