MESA, Ariz. - In the continuing battle to get children to eat their
vegetables, Black Mesa Community School may have stumbled upon a
vegetables taste better when eaten by the kids who grew them.
confirmed Laneisha Clah, 8.
front of this tiny school (53 students at last count), remote even
by Navajo standards, is an overflowing garden plot complete with
corn, beans, squash, melons and several young fruit trees. Children
dash about the crops looking for harvest-ready veggies as though
they had been turned loose with a dollar bill in a candy store.
they're careful not to step on the plants. After all, they grew
each one, volunteering during the summer.
veggies may be all the rage in gourmet magazines, but here on the
Navajo Nation, size counts.
zucchini's bigger than yours!" boasts one boy.
mine is!" argues a girl.
teacher Iris Rockbridge, the earth mother behind this enterprise,
sees an opportunity for a math lesson.
measure them!" she suggests.
garden has also been used to teach science (Does corn grow better
indoors or out?) and even art (note the brightly painted birdhouses
hanging from the fruit trees). But there is another lesson Rockbridge
considers at least as important: Good nutrition is a lifelong habit
that can never be developed too early.
sunk in to all the kids.
grow vegetables so we can eat healthy and we can stay better and
we won't get sick," Clah explained matter-of-factly.
veggies make their way into the school lunch and any overflow is
personally delivered to needy members of the community by the children
of gardening is learning about sharing," Rockbridge said.
is Black Mesa's second attempt at a community garden. Last year,
the crops were doing great when someone left the gate open and a
herd of errant cattle demolished all hopes of a harvest.
year, the kids are keeping a much better eye on it," Rockbridge
said. Another lesson taught by the garden: Protect what you have
worked hard for.
garden was actually the brainchild of the children themselves.
asked them what they wanted to study for science and they said,
'Gardening,'" Rockbridge recalled.
having much of a green thumb, she signed up for the master gardener
course at the Chinle Comprehensive Health Facility. Instructor Majel
Brown immediately volunteered to offer some classes at the school,
and when Wanda Clark at Chinle's New Dawn office heard about it,
she pitched in some seeds and fruit tree saplings.
seemed like once we got started, everyone wanted to help us,"
Mesa is not the ideal place to farm. The soil is poor, rainfall
is minimal and, at over 6,000 feet, the zucchini leaves are already
showing the black tinge of frostbite. Still, the kids have managed
an ample harvest, and their efforts are being noticed.
starting to spread to the community," said teacher Daisy Kiyaani.
"I've seen a lot more little backyard gardens this year."
Principal Marie Rose, a firm believer in healthy eating, is ramping
up the nutrition message. The children's 3 p.m. snack break is likely
to be strawberries and bananas instead of cookies and crackers,
and teachers are discouraged from bringing soda pop to school.
we're hoping is that even if children don't have good nutrition
in the home, we can role-model for them at school," Rockbridge
seems to be working. With nobody to tell them they're supposed to
hate veggies, the kids are talking about them as though they were
comparing ice cream flavors.
should grow carrots next year," suggests one girl. "Carrots
are my favorite."
And peppers!" chimes in another.
guess we have to make the garden bigger next year," says Rockbridge
with a smile.