Fourth grader Gregory Demchko began working in his school’s garden in kindergarten, he said as he munched on an Asian pear grown on a nearby tree.
A fan of science, Demchkopointed out the fruit he just took a bite outhad two skins. But the first seeds he remembers planting at PS 216 in Gravesend were onions in second grade.
“My mom says I have a green thumb, which is definitely true,” Demchko said.
His school in south Brooklyn stands as one of the city’s shining examples of what nutrition classes can look like when combined with academics and an excited community.
A new partnership between local nonprofit Edible Schoolyard NYC — which operates PS 216’s garden and kitchen classroom — and national organization FoodCorps aims to do the same for as many as 8,000 public school students.
In 2012, the city Health Department reported that one in four students attending schools in high-poverty areas eats fruits or vegetables at least twice a day. Overall, students at high-poverty schools were more likely to be overweight or obese than peers at low-poverty schools.
Along with PS 216, Edible Schoolyard NYC has spent the last five years since at East Harlem’s PS 7 to plant gardens and offer interactive lessons that incorporate foods kids grow at their schools.
Kate Brashares, Edible Schoolyard NYC’s director, explained that the partnership with FoodCorps 20 public schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan will soon install gardens and work FoodCorps-trained volunteers.
Much of what kids participating in Edible Schoolyard NYC programs will coordinate the work FoodCorps workers will do with the new network of schools, adapting what Edible Schoolyard NYC already does on a smaller, more flexible scale.
Besides regular time in a garden tended to by kids and volunteers, students also spend time in the classroom learning about the foods they’re growing and learn to cook at school with a new monthly recipe they also take home.
Launched in 2009 following a national push to engage young Americans in public service, FoodCorps has worked in towns and cities across the country to change student attitudes toward food and improve eating habits.
Jerusha Klemperer, a FoodCorps co-founder, said the group was excited to see what they can do across the schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan selected with help from the city’s departments of health and education to join in the expansion.
“People kept asking when we were coming to New York,” she said. “There’sa tremendous will and passion here tobe more engaged and excited about food being served.”
While only working with a small, but growing number of New York City’s 1.1 million public school kids, Brashares said programs like the one they’re spreading with FoodCorps’ help instills not only nutritional education but also a sense of pride and community.
“We’ve chosen schools that already have some interest in this but also some that can really benefit from the program,” she said.
Brashares added that their work is in line with what kids are learning in their regular classes.
“When they’re learning a recipe, they’re using ratios and proportions,” she said. “They’re learning about square footage in the gardens, science and the environment — the garden and kitchens really bring the subjects to life.”
Back in the garden, 10-year-old Gina Lim credited working in the garden with her learning to eat a healthy mix of vegetables and fruits.
“Before I never actually liked vegetables,” said Lim, who described kale as her favorite kind of green. “This garden has so many different thing we get to eat. If kids had this kind of things in their school, they’d be inspired.”