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Healthy Foods

Healthy FoodsMRH is committed to the health and wellbeing of its students. The district meets this goal in a number of ways, but having healthy food is central to this belief. In addition to providing healthy food, the district also helps teach students about nutrition and healthy food choices. Here are some of the innovative ways that MRH does this:


Four gardens at the district help educate students about the MRH-grown peppernatural world around them. The focus is on nature, life cycles, and nutrition, and students are immersed in health literacy throughout the garden curriculum.

Program Goals

  • Promote principles of sustainability and stewardship
  • Teach respect for nature and the environment
  • Teach the basic principles of organic gardening
  • Engage in hands-on exploration of food and nutrition 
  • Emphasize healthy lifestyle choices
  • Promote the value of cooperation, teamwork, responsibility and sense of place
  • Use the garden as an outdoor classroom
  • Create a sense of community among students, teachers, parents and members of the community
  • Support all areas of the curriculum using the natural world as the tools.

MRH produce sold at local farmers' marketHow MRH First Got Involved with School Gardens

The program started in 2006 as a small preschool pilot program and has grown to include K-12 expansion. 

Did MRH draw inspiration from the works of anyone else when first attempting to develop its school garden?
The pilot program at began the same year that we started our work with the Reggio Emilia program. One of the beliefs of Reggio is that the environment is the third teacher which fits perfectly with the garden program. Another source of our inspiration was “The Edible Schoolyard” by Alice Waters.

MRH students show off their produceIn MRH's opinion, how do kids learn best?
Children learn best with hands-on activities where they work cooperatively in small groups. We have found that child-centered learning philosophies allow students to develop their own learning and be more engaged in that process.

What educational expectations does MRH have of students when working in the garden? 
Be safe - Be responsible - Be respectful - Have fun

How are lessons/garden experiences designed to meet the varying ability levels of students (low, average, high)?
Since garden activities tend to be hands-on and students work in small groups, all students have an opportunity to peer teach which reinforces knowledge for students at middle and high levels and helps engage students at lower levels of ability. The garden is a place where children at all ability levels can contribute in a valuable and positive way.

How does MRH incorporate the curriculum into the garden? Did you develop it yourself, or acquire it from somewhere else? 
In the first 2 years, MRH developed the curriculum at the Early Childhood Center. As we have expanded, the garden coordinators collaborate with classroom teachers, specialists and administrators to determine how garden concepts can be used to enhance grade-level curriculum at the elementary and middle school levels. MRH teachers write all of our curricula.

How is technology incorporated into instruction? 
Since our teachers are responsible for writing our curriculum, our units and lessons are available through an on-line curriculum writing application those students at the middle school level access as well. We integrate technology through our documentation efforts. We also use new media as a community outreach tool.

How is student learning assessed? (How does MRH measure student learning and check for understanding?) 
Teachers in the MRH garden program primarily use performance events as a measure of student understanding.

A math teacher is teaching a unit on measurement. How might he/she relate this to a school garden? 
Math teachers could use the school garden in a measurement unit by tracking plant growth, having students plant and use proper seed spacing, developing a measurement unit that uses volume, square footage, and other concepts necessary to design a garden.

Students are responsible for maintaining MRH gardensWhat is the goal of having a school garden? 
The goals of our program are:

  • Promote principles of sustainability and stewardship
  • Teach respect for nature and the environment
  • Teach the basic principles of organic gardening
  • Engage in hands-on exploration of food and nutrition
  • Emphasize healthy lifestyle choices
  • Promote the value of cooperation, teamwork, responsibility and sense of place
  • Use the garden as an outdoor classroom
  • Create a sense of community among students, teachers, parents and members of the community.
  • Support all areas of the curriculum using the natural world as the tool.

How does MRH motivate the unmotivated? 
We have found that though the gardens lend themselves to hand-on, engaging exploration, some children are not interested in various portions of outdoor learning. The best way to motivate these children is to give them ample opportunity to get to know the garden environment and to encourage them to find their place in their school’s outdoor classroom.

Explain how MRH structures a garden experience within one class period. 
Lesson planning is very important, as are having all of the materials at hand before beginning. It works best to be certain that all students have an opportunity to participate. Our garden teachers have students work in small groups and help assign tasks to each group member.

Discuss how you discipline students in order to maintain a productive learning environment.
We set expectations early and we are certain that consequences are clear. We feel that our number one job is to keep the students safe and we are working with garden and kitchen tools. Students are encouraged to show that they are responsible and sensible. If a student’s behavior is too disruptive, we have the student come out of the situation and refocus in another area so that his or her classmates can continue with their learning.

How do you promote acceptance, tolerance, and diversity within the confines of a school garden? 
By showing children how biodiversity is necessary in a garden, we encourage them to understand how cooperation and acceptance are valuable in their human community. We also encourage students to see how each of their individual interests and abilities contribute to the overall success of the school garden.

What are some ways you involve parents in your instruction?
We encourage parent volunteers in our garden classroom. We involve our community through regular communication, events, newsletters and other outreach efforts.

Whether on a grade-level team or in a special area, it is important that colleagues reflect a sense of teamwork. Describe ways that a school garden might contribute to collegial support and staff morale. 
Because MRH garden coordinators are not classroom teachers, our program depends on regular collaboration with teachers and administrators. We share garden experiences, garden-grown foods and we emphasize that the garden is there for all of the school community to enjoy.

Aside from the instructional delivery of the curriculum, how has the school garden (or how do you see the garden as having) a positive influence on the lives of your students?
The garden teaches respect, teamwork and helps build self-esteem, all of which are qualities that can help children succeed in other parts of their lives. Students have stated that they think more carefully about their food and individual health choices due to their garden experiences.

What do you do in order to stay current in approaches to the use of school gardens?
We stay involved in local and national school gardening programs, teacher professional development and on-going sustainability curriculum writing.

What are your long-term goals for the school gardens?
We hope to continue our own school garden and sustainability program as well as be a model for other schools.

What do you feel is the greatest strength in having a school garden? Weakness?
The greatest strength of a school garden is that it is a powerful, engaging classroom experience. The greatest weakness in having a school garden is providing financial and personnel support for a program on an on-going basis.

Students enjoy meals with campus-grown ingredientsSeed to Table Today

The ECC continues to successfully incorporate the Seed to Table program into the curriculum. All students from pre-Kindergarten through 2nd grade attend weekly garden and nutrition classes.

At the elementary school, the garden is a part of a regular rotation for the 6th grade students. The garden is also a part of the inquiry and literacy units and is a valuable hands-on portion of the curriculum.

The middle school and high school gardens provide a place for students to study science and math. Students have the opportunity to cook in the school's teaching kitchen where they create healthy and great-tasting meals.

Seed to Table: Helpful Resources and Contacts

MU Extension
Urban agriculture and school garden help. Local planting and plant care guide - a very valuable site!

Gateway Greening
St. Louis area school garden resource.

Kids Gardening
A great resource for school gardens.

The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation
This organization has a grant program for schools to grow fruit trees.

Shelburne Farms
In Burlington, VT.

The Center for Ecoliteracy
Sustainability in Schools.

The Society for Organizational Learning

The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education

The “Fish Game”
An on-line lesson in sustainability.

Almut Marino, Director of Seed to Table
MRH Early Childhood Center
2801 Oakland Avenue
Maplewood, MO 63143

Jessica Mathis, Director of Seed to Table
MRH Elementary School
1800 Princeton Place
Richmond Heights, MO 63117

Melissa Breed-Parks, Director of Seed to Table
MRH High School/Middle School
7539 Manchester Road
Maplewood, MO 63143

Irene Wan, MRH Director of Food Services
7539 Manchester Road
Maplewood, MO 63143

Healthy Eating with Local Produce

The Healthy Eating with Local Produce, an award-winning program, is grant supported and started during the 2009-2010 school year. Through this program, the district is replacing many processed foods on school lunch menus with locally grown, fresh produce through a partnership with Saint Louis University, the Missouri Farmers’ Union, and Sappington Farmers Market. Through the innovative program, SLU nutrition and dietetics students and interns will prepare the local produce for the lunches at MRH. By the end of the three-year grant, at least 25% of the food the district serves will come from local farmers. Check out the H.E.L.P. website.

Free Breakfasts

For many families in the district, it’s a struggle to afford food. The free breakfast program helps ensure students begin the school day well fed and ready to learn.

Local Food Events

The district is working with community organizations in hosting and/or promoting food events, like the recent movie night. From offering a class through The Heights to participation at the Maplewood Farmers’ Market, this helps get parents, kids and other community members involved.

Part of a Continuum

These changes are built upon other programs the district has implemented in recent years that aim to teach students and their families about health, healthy lifestyle choices, sustainability, and a deep understanding of where our food comes from. These programs include:

The MRH Chickens

Students learn about nutrition, the food cycle, and more, from the youngsters at the Early Childhood Center who help with the care of the chickens, to the older student “chickenologists” who promote the value in raising backyard chickens. Read more.