A program to enhance the nutritional well being of South Texas school children that is administered by the Department of Community Engagement at The University of Texas-Pan American and funded by the Monsanto Fund has expanded over the last year thanks to the added support of the Valley Telephone Cooperative, Inc (VTCI).
The South Texas Initiative for Child Nutrition through Agriculture (ICNA) has now helped to establish gardens in 15 schools across 11 school districts in the Rio Grande Valley. Its focus is on improving children's eating habits to address the growing rates of obesity and diabetes in South Texas. VTCI partnered with ICNA to share the expenses of the school gardens that are in the cooperative's service area.
"The ICNA's goal is to positively promote and influence dietary habits of school-age children and to further the understanding and appreciation of nutritional value and relevance for a healthy lifestyle," said Annie Studebaker, ICNA project director. "We welcome VTCI's support for the gardens which will provide students with a lifelong education about nutrition."
Each school has 16-20 raised beds, 4 feet by 8 feet. Some schools have in-ground gardens as well. Students, under teacher supervision, plant, maintain, nurture, harvest, and sustain the school nutrition gardens, which are pesticide and herbicide free. The school gardens are tailored to meet the educational needs of every student. Lessons about nutrition are incorporated into the curricula and serve as powerful tools throughout various subjects, Studebaker said.
Dave Osborn, VTCI general manager and CEO, said his company is glad to be able to help sponsor the gardens.
"It has given us the opportunity to favorably impact young lives and contribute to their long-term health and wellness. Eating habits established now with the vegetables grown in these gardens can follow these young people throughout their lives-enabling them to live longer with better health," he said.
Teacher sponsors participate in workshops and tours offered by the ICNA project director that address and demonstrate the dynamics of sustainable agriculture. Topics covered include all-natural pest management, entomology, companion planting, soil management, composting, seasonal planting, and crop rotation.
"UTPA and the Monsanto Fund, in conjunction with VTCI, are working toward a common goal of giving children a better understanding and appreciation of nutritional value and the importance of a healthy lifestyle. The project also offers opportunities for experiential learning that expand student knowledge of health, agriculture, and nutrition," Studebaker said.
For more information on the ICNA project contact Studebaker at firstname.lastname@example.org.