Sustainable food education in Payson schools are lacking, posing a problem for future generations to learn how to eat healthy and support local food systems. This type of education can be valuable for supporting the economic and environmental development of Payson. One way Payson schools can promote this education is through implementing school garden programs.
I have seen the positive effects a school garden can have from my experience of volunteering at Echo Canyon School in Scottsdale during my senior year at Arizona State University. Teachers utilize the garden for science and environmental lessons, making more interactive ways for children to learn. Students have become very open to trying new vegetables and have learned the basics of preparing food through cooking demonstrations from local chefs. They are developing tastes for healthier foods through edible education, supporting the long-term health of children. With the overabundance of fast food chains in Payson, schools have an important role to play for teaching students how to become more health-conscious consumers.
School gardens can also be used as a positive means to raise awareness of childhood obesity. According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents was 18.5% in 2016. These rates have been steadily increasing throughout the years, as industrialized foods have usually dominated the diets of how children eat in the cafeteria. Numerous schools across the country have used school gardens as an alternative to industrialized foods, providing students an outlet for fresh foods that they may not usually have access to.
There is already momentum in Payson schools for creating healthier school lunches, as last year PUSD partnered with Southwest Food Service Excellence, a company that focuses on creating scratch-made and local meals for students. A school garden can help enhance this company’s impacts for giving students a holistic school meal, providing the social and environmental aspects that come with food.
Students can better understand the impact of eating locally if they have a chance to grow food directly on campus. This includes teaching kids about seasonal and regional foods and seeking out quality over quantity. The impact a school garden can have affects more than just the students, as it can create a shared place in the community for chefs and local leaders to interact with students to think about Payson’s sustainable future.