Namrita Narula, a teenager in Chicago, IL, is committed to solving problems that most people her age, or any age for that matter, don’t even think about. Her mission is to combat food insecurity in the North Shore section of Chicago, and she is doing so in some very important and inspirational ways. Seeds of Knowledge is a community service program Namrita started in March 2015 to achieve these goals.
Seeds of Knowledge formed a partnership with Highland Park Community Nursery School and Day Care Center in 2015. The partnership between Seeds of Knowledge and the nursery school intends to teach nursery school students about the importance of nutrition and to provide them hands-on experience with gardening. In May 2015, Seeds of Knowledge installed an outdoor garden at the school, consisting of four raised bed gardens. The garden serves as a launching point to get students more connected to their food and the Earth, and help them to have a better understanding of how to make healthy food choices.
Namrita first learned about hydroponics and the EzGro systems from family when she was in ninth grade, and was drawn to it because of the potential to grow year-round in a city whose growing season for many crops is very short. She decided to meet with the curriculum director of the nursery school to get started installing vertical tower gardens inside classrooms at the school in January 2016. She now has five EzGro Patio Gardens set up in five different classrooms. The teachers were very excited about the program when they were approached about it, which is vital to the program’s success. Each of the five classrooms has just around twenty students, which is the exact number of plants per Patio Garden. This worked out beautifully so that each student has his or her own plant to look after. Students, ages 3-5, were very welcoming toward Namrita and excited to see plants growing in their classrooms.
“Students are more likely to eat vegetable that they grow themselves,” says Namrita. Both the indoor and outdoor gardens are crucial elements to the curriculum and partnership. Namrita visits students in each classroom once per week to teach them about healthy eating in a fun and engaging way. During her visits, Namrita and the nursery school students engage in fun, hands-on activities such as making kale chips, decorating pots to grow plants in, and playing games. One game involves showing students a plate of food and having them guess which food group the item belongs to; another favorite game is Fruit and Veggie Bingo. This gets students thinking about choosing healthier options, but is presented in a warm and engaging environment. The nursery school teachers have been open and receptive to all aspects of the Seeds of Knowledge curriculum. EzGro systems are a perfect way for teachers to integrate growing into their school day, especially because the systems require such little maintenance. This allows Namrita and the teachers more time to focus on the curriculum, and less time spent taking care of the plants. This setup provides a unique opportunity to grow produce all year round, while educating nursery school students about the connection from seed to plate.
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