By: Diana Beach
October Farm to School Month has helped Diana Cole of Statham Elementary School transform the lives of her seven mild intellectually disabled (MI) students in Barrow County Schools. It all began last year when she read a motivational book in search of unique ways to inspire her students. At the same time, the School Nutrition Coordinator, Nicole Trunk, emailed about the Georgia Organics’ 2016 October Farm to School Month “Leaf it to Spinach” campaign. A lightbulb went off in Cole’s head. This month-long, statewide effort to encourage Georgia students to eat, grow, and participate in spinach-themed activities was exactly what she was looking for to motivate her 4th and 5th graders in a fun and unique way.
When she started, the garden plots at the elementary school were overgrown, which gave Cole’s students the opportunity to imagine their future gardening space. Since they hadn’t experienced planting an edible garden before, this was brand new to them. Their imaginations ran wild! This was the beginning of an impactful campaign.
Cole embraced Georgia’s October weather challenges and began the campaign with cooking activities. Before starting, she took a tally of the student’s interest in spinach; five of the seven said that they did not like spinach, but this would soon change. Of all the cooking activities, the favorite taste tested recipes were ‘green’ eggs and spinach brownies. One of her students, Junior, who has some difficulties with food textures, loved the ‘green’ eggs. By putting the spinach in the eggs, Junior was able to move past his sensory issues. He ate two whole servings of ‘green’ eggs.
The rest of the month included a variety of activities. Towards the end of the month, students were able to plant organic spinach seeds using sustainable methods to harvest in November. For their adaptive physical education class, they did yoga with a variety of spinach-themed yoga poses. Realizing that a cookbook would increase the likelihood of her students cooking at home, Cole created one filled with candid student pictures and their favorite spinach recipes. Their love of spinach culminated at the end of the month with an invitation for other classes to come and try a variety of their homemade spinach recipes. Her students felt proud to share with others!
“Leaf it to Spinach” has influenced numerous other activities throughout the year. In January, post-October Farm to School month, the students went to Subway as a community-based instruction lesson. Each student had to order their own food. Without encouragement, four of the seven ordered spinach on their sandwiches.
Another student chose to do a research paper about spinach for his big end-of-the-year project. Cole worked with him to research spinach. He also had the opportunity to interview a nutrition educator about the benefits of spinach. These moments were very impactful for Cole and showed the true effectiveness of these motivational hands-on programs with her students.
Cole emphasizes the self-efficacy that was developed within her students throughout the campaign. Cole’s students now have container plants right outside of their classroom windows filled with radishes, carrots, and tomatoes that they tend to with nurturing love and care. This is a relationship that has been cultivated directly through their hands-on experience with spinach. Now, when Cole walks in with her grocery bags, her students get ecstatic knowing that it is a sign of a cooking day. They have been cooking and growing ever since, not just with food but with their own confidence and knowledge.
For more information and resources on October Farm to School Month, visit https://georgiaorganics.org/for-schools/octoberfarmtoschoolmonth.