Whole Foods Market has a reputation for providing an elevated grocery shopping experience that highlights fresh, organic produce and artisan goods. Their tidily lined shelves feature familiar and funky products that make eating healthy, and often even locally sourced, easy but what many don’t know is that their vision of providing a wealth of nourishing products goes beyond what you see during a visit to the store.
Whole Foods also provides funding on a national level to schools and non-profits with their Whole Kids Foundation. This foundation is an independent non-profit based in Austin, and has a vision to help children reach optimal health by helping to empower kids and their families to make healthy dietary choices through education and immersion. They do this with a number of different programs, one of which includes their garden grant, which has just recently awarded the $2,000 grant to six Pierce County Schools: Tacoma’s Clover Creek Elementary, Seabury School, Summit Olympus and Whitman Elementary, and University Place’s Evergreen Primary and Curtis High School.
Nona Evans, executive director and president of the Whole Kids Foundations, says, “We are passionate about providing students with the opportunity to engage in learning outside of classrooms, and educational gardens do just that. The joy and gratitude that come from funding these programs for students never dulls.”
Evans said that at the root of the Foundation’s motivation to support schools in hosting gardens is the idea that when children grow and eat plants, they develop an understanding about what “real” food is. “Too often, kids (and adults) think food comes from a can or a box. Once they discover the magic of planting a seed and seeing a plant they can eat emerge, their curiosity is peaked! We know from our experience and research that when children grow food, they are more willing to try dozens of vegetables. Our approach to improving children’s nutrition is simple: eat a rainbow of natural color, eat greens first and eat as close to nature as possible. All of that can happen in a school garden.”
It is the foundation’s belief that community gardens have been shown to improve a student’s behavior and performance at school and improve their attitudes toward their academic environment. Furthermore, it’s said that a measly two percent of children eat enough fresh produce. Given these facts, the Whole Kids Foundation hopes that by helping provide these gardening hubs, students can learn more about nutrition and make better decisions throughout their lifetime.
While the garden grant sometimes provides the foundation funds to begin a school garden, in some cases it can be used to simply provide more opportunities in one that already exists. Such is the case in University Place’s Evergreen Primary. “We are really blessed to already have a community garden on campus,” said Principal Chris Backman. “The PTSA was responsible for applying for and acquiring the Whole Kids Foundation Fund and we are really excited to receive such a great grant.” Since the grant was just recently received, how they plan to put the grant to use is still in the developmental stages but Evergreen Primary has some great ideas about how they hope it will help engage the student body.
Backman tells me the school is excited about developing a partnership with Whole Foods since it’s right there in their very own backyard and goes on to say, “We hope to allow the students more opportunities to learn about planting seeds and harvesting nature and maybe even plan on purchasing a couple plots for the students to plant their own produce. We are looking forward to establishing more structure and resources to help students recognize that a simple backyard garden can make a big difference.” The very best ways for adults to support this work are:
1.) Plant something! Start with an herb or tomato in a pot on the patio and grow from there.
2.) Connect with your local school. Volunteer to share your good food experiences by doing a vegetable tasting in the cafeteria or reading books from the Book Club.
3.) Thank a teacher for lending their energy to the health of our next generation.
Whole Foods Market is located at 3515 Bridgeport Way W., University Place. Open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sales, coupons, events and more are available at www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/chambersbay.