Evaluation-finds-value-in-culinary-programming-at-school-based-gardens-

Evaluation finds value in culinary programming at school-based gardens

School-based kitchen garden programs across the country are known to improve fruit and vegetable knowledge and consumption among school children, but their value has not yet been well quantified using research methods.

Evaluation of Edible Schoolyard New Orleans (ESYNOLA), coordinated by the Tulane Prevention Research Center (PRC), sought to share how the whole school community – students, families, teachers, and neighbors – can participate in the growing, harvesting and sharing of food together as a means of building community and improving the health. The results were recently published in the journal Health Promotion Practice.

Founded in 2006, ESYNOLA works to change the way children eat, learn, and live at five FirstLine public charter schools in New Orleans. ESYNOLA envisions generations of New Orleans children who have healthy relationships with food, the natural world, themselves, and their community. "Throughout the arc of our 12 years of programming, there has been a lot of time to grow and expand to where we are now – one of the largest programs of this kind in the nation," said Kerrie Partridge, MPH, Program Director at ESYNOLA. "Ultimately, the information from focus groups confirmed – in a methodical way – what we see every day."

"This program could be a promising strategy for influencing social and environmental factors in communities," said Megan Knapp, MPH, Tulane PRC Assistant Director and lead author on the recent paper. "Engaging in evaluation is important for fostering community and financial support for programs like this. It doesn't take a ton of resources to create school gardens, so we hope that this research will help guide others in creating successful combined programming."

"This is a step towards understanding the layers of effectiveness of programs like ours," said Partridge. "Right now, there are pockets of research around school-based gardens and culinary programming, but we're lacking formal evaluation of social outcomes such as the perceptions of our community. It's a rare gift when it can be assessed and shared."

Perceptions from parents, teachers, and students showed the opportunity for social interaction, hands-on learning, and how students can become change influencers at home. Through the students, this kind of experiential learning can impact their families.

As to where this research is heading next, Knapp said, "The next step here will be looking deeper into the data and examining a survey of a wider audience."

By Emily Szklarski, Tulane PRC Communications Research Assistant
September 2018

(Photos courtesy of ESYNOLA)

Topics:   diet , nutrition , school food , school health , youth engagement , food environment

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