Tonawanda News

Features

September 20, 2012

To teach kids about food, put planters in the playground

The slogan "Think Different" has become a mantra for a generation of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. So when high-tech-millionaire-turned-restaurateur Kimbal Musk envisioned a network of Learning Gardens for public schools, he didn't settle for the usual framed, raised beds.

Instead, he thought of swooping, curved planters made of food-grade plastic, each with an irrigation system tucked away inside: a "product" that could be replicated quickly, at relatively affordable prices.

Product is not a word usually associated with organic temples of experiential learning. But like chef-restaurateur Alice Waters, who launched the American school-garden craze 15 years ago in Berkeley, Calif., Musk, 39, says such gardens are essential to reversing obesity, which now afflicts one in three American children.

According to the Journal of American Dietetics, sixth-grade students involved in a garden-based nutrition education program increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by 2.5 servings per day, more than doubling their overall consumption. A class of fifth-graders who participated in garden-based lessons scored 15 points higher on science tests than students who learned in a traditional classroom.

"For me, there's no point unless we are reaching a critical mass of people," says Musk. "It's not that small projects aren't doing good things. If you serve four schools, you can feel very good about yourself. . . . The only way to solve the problem is to reach all of America's 100,000 schools."

Musk's first step toward mass-producing school gardens is to install 60 Learning Gardens in Chicago, 60 in his home state of Colorado and 60 more across the country over the next year. An announcement with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city's schools chief, Jean-Claude Brizard, could come as soon as Thursday, depending on the city's teachers' strike.

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    Sara Johnson lives surrounded by green and growing things. Showing a visitor around her apartment in North Buffalo, she pointed out the plants in every room, the balcony and even in two small greenhouses — houseplants, flowers, vegetables, even carnivorous plants.

    "I try to keep as much growing in the house as I can," she said.

    Another goal of hers is to show others how to do the same — and to that end, Johnson is offering a series of workshops this summer in connection with her business, Sylvatica Terrariums, and Project 308 Gallery in North Tonawanda, teaching people how to bring a piece of the outdoors into their homes in the form of a terrarium or other greenery.

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    When Explore Buffalo Tours got started about eight months ago, the business concentrated on specialized tours designed to showcase specific aspects of the City of Buffalo’s history, architecture and culture.

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