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$1M will launch 70 school garden programs, 23 in N.Y.

Cornell University Cooperative Extension in New York City (CUCE-NYC) and Washington State University Extension (WSUE) have been awarded $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service to create new school gardens and education programs in high-poverty schools, the USDA announced April 7.

Through the "Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth: A People's Garden" school pilot program, CUCE and WSUE, along with Iowa State University Extension and the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, will develop and run school community garden programs to improve students' access to nutritious food, their knowledge of nutrition and agriculture production, and to give them a chance to contribute to the nutritional well-being of their communities.

The project will involve four schools in New York City and 19 schools distributed through Rockland, Suffolk, Delaware, Schenectady and Monroe/Wayne counties; as well as 47 schools in Iowa, Arkansas and Washington, reaching up to 2,800 students.

A research team at Cornell, led by Nancy Wells, associate professor of design and environmental analysis in the College of Human Ecology, will use data from the initiative to evaluate the effectiveness of school garden programs and develop a model that can be applied nationwide. Marcia Eames-Sheavly, Cornell instructor in horticulture, will contribute garden-based learning expertise; other Cornell departments include nutrition, human development and the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

CUCE-NYC will receive $438,000 of the grant and will co-manage with WSU in administration, content development and delivery. CUCE-NYC will also serve as state lead for New York, overseeing coordination of gardens and schools, data collection and resource adaptation; and facilitating the involvement of extension associations from the five counties (as well as New York City). Gretchen Ferenz, CUCE-NYC senior extension associate, co-principal investigator and project co-manager, said cooperative extension educators will work closely with school principals, teachers and parents to facilitate the program.

"Growing food can positively reinforce good behaviors and choices among young people," she said, adding that the program will encourage students to learn about nutrition and food production, engage in physical activity, connect with nature, make healthier lifestyle choices and share their experiences with their families and peers.

"Grass roots community gardens and agriculture programs have great promise for teaching our kids about food production and nutrition at the local level," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. "Learning where food comes from and what fresh foods taste like, and the pride of growing and serving vegetables and fruits that grew through your own effort are life-changing experiences. All of us at USDA are proud to make this possible."

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John Carberry