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UTPA funds nutrition gardens for Valley schools
Contact: Amanda Perez, Intern 381-2741
Posted: 04/12/2010
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Promoting health and nutrition to Rio Grande Valley high school students is what The University of Texas-Pan American is doing through their South Texas Initiative for Child Nutrition through Agriculture (ICNA) project.

A group of Med High School students and their teachers pose in front of their nutrition garden funded by the ICNA project from UTPA.

Funded by the Monsanto Fund, ICNA has recently provided $3,425 for materials and supplies needed to build a nutrition garden at South Texas School for Health Professions (Med High) in Mercedes, Texas. To celebrate the initiation of the project at Med High, UTPA along with Med High officials, celebrated by holding a groundbreaking ceremony.

Med High is the fifth school to receive a nutrition garden. The first nutrition garden was established at IDEA Academy and IDEA College Preparatory in Donna, Texas. Three other schools across the Valley are also participating in the project.

"These schools can definitely set the roots for a healthier lifestyle with these gardens," said Annie Studebaker, UTPA project director. "Our target is to give students lifelong education about nutrition."

According to Studebaker, the ICNA project will assist in the efforts to reduce childhood obesity and diabetes in a predominately Hispanic region by establishing nutrition gardens that provide students with fresh produce for school nutrition programs.

"The purpose of the grant and gardens is to positively promote and influence dietary habits of school-aged children and to further the understanding and appreciation of nutritional value and relevance for a healthy lifestyle," Studebaker said.

Students, under teacher supervision, will plant, maintain, nurture and harvest the nutrition gardens. The garden projects are tailored to meet the educational needs of different students and fit different high school curricula.

"The gardens will increase academic value, function and relevance through experimental and cooperative learning by allowing students to demonstrate their abilities, efforts and knowledge of the biological and ecological process involved in the production of a nutrition garden," Studebaker said.

Working together as a team, Med High School students fill nutrition garden beds with dirt to begin planting vegetables and fruits on their campus.
Med High School seniors, Kelly Reyna, 18, and Rocky Rodriguez, 17, believe that there are a number of benefits to students who work in the garden.

"Our garden has showed me the amount of effort and work that needs to be put into a project like this," Reyna said. "It's going to help students build character and improve on teamwork skills because the success and future of the garden is up to the students."

"Along with promoting a nutritious lifestyle and educating students on the importance of nature, the garden serves as a character builder," said Rodriguez. "By character I mean as students we're going to learn the value of hard work because of the manual labor that will go into maintaining the garden and reaping the fruits and vegetables at the end of the season."

Studebaker said the gardens will be a great impact for students now and in the future. She hopes they will gain a great sense of appreciation and value for what the garden produces because they played a crucial role in its production.

Studebaker also believes the garden will spark interest in different career fields for students such as agriculture, horticulture, entomology, botany, science and medicine.

"There is a lot to learn about plants and health and this garden is going to be really helpful for them," Studebaker said. "It's going to open many doors."

For more information on the ICNA project contact Studebaker at studebakeraj@utpa.edu.