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Fighting Childhood Obesity: One Garden At a Time


Fighting Childhood Obesity: One Garden At a Time

There is an epidemic in Sonoma County: Fifty-seven percent of 12-19 year olds in the county are overweight or obese.[1] The Healthy Sonoma Community Health Needs Assessment 2011 (a collaborative effort by Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa, St. Joseph Health System – Sonoma County, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center – Santa Rosa, and the Sonoma County Department of Health Services) summarized the following findings: 

  • Low-income children in Sonoma County are at highest risk for overweight and obesity
  • Higher rates of overweight and obesity are reported among Hispanic children
  • Sonoma County youth are not consuming the five daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables
  • Anemia is prevalent among low-income children
  • Food insecurity is linked to overweight in Sonoma County
  • Schools must be part of the solution to solving overweight and obesity.

The School Garden Network (SGN) has worked for the past ten years to inspire, support and promote school garden programs and nutrition-based learning in Sonoma County.  SGN has provided financial assistance to over 25 school garden programs and has offered mentoring, networking opportunities and access to garden resources to many more schools throughout the county.  School gardens can be a gateway to introducing young children to healthy habits: to tasting fresh produce, experiencing outdoor activity, and learning to make simple nourishing meals and snacks. In recent years, school garden programs have seen a dramatic increase in number and diversity fueled by rising awareness of the serious consequences of childhood obesity, concern about where our food comes from, and the adoption of federal school wellness policies.

Melissa McClure, the Garden Coordinator at Steele Lane Elementary, says that their program focuses on “bringing nutrition education full circle from outdoor garden classes, to students' regular classes to their lunchroom food choices, and back again to the garden where students help decide what to plant and what they eventually want to harvest and eat.” The students receive regular samplings of produce during garden classes and garden produce is made available at the school lunch bar.  In addition, this year the school's Enrichment Foundation is supporting the Harvest of the Month[2] program for grades K-6. Teachers link what they're tasting with Harvest of the Month to what they might grow in garden classes, along with the foods they eat at lunch and at home with their families. Students report one of their favorite activities, in addition to harvesting and preparing veggies and fruits, is eating them!”

Kaelyn Ramsden, the Garden Coordinator at Salmon Creek Elementary School, says that the garden has become the heart of the Salmon Creek and Harmony School communities.  “Every grade visits the garden twice per week with the first class focusing on farming and gardening, and the second on cooking and nutrition. These classes are inextricably linked to the Cafeteria Program, as the children know that the vegetables they grow will go directly into their daily meals. As Garden teachers we are known to make the promise, ‘If a child grows the Kale, they’ll eat the Kale’, and the same is true if they cook that Kale. Not only will they eat it, but I’m often asked in our cooking classes, ‘There’s not enough for fifths Miss Kaelyn?’ Our cooking classes are an opportunity to test out the recipes on our cafeteria menu, get feedback from the kids, and make sure that the dish will be appreciated and enjoyed to the fullest.”

For more information on the School Garden Network and the many wonderful school garden programs in Sonoma County, go to


Written by Tracy Batchelder/Program & Administrative Associate, at the School Garden Network of Sonoma County, Melissa McClure/Garden Coordinator at Steele Lane Elementary School, and Kaeyln Ramsden/School Garden Coordinator at Salmon Creek Elementary School. 

[1] Southwest Santa Rosa Clinic Data, 2008. Redwood Coalition of Health Centers Pediatric Nutrition Project, 2008.

[2]Harvest of the Month provides materials for students, families, and the community to engage in hands-on opportunities to explore, taste, and learn about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables and being active every day” – CA Dept. of Health.