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Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014
Northeast News

Greco Middle farm project aims to build healthy bodies, brains


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For many in today’s busy world, the days are long and the time left to tend to household tasks – let alone leisure — is short.

For many, family meals consist of quick-fix store-bought cuisine or fast-food fare from drive-thru restaurants.

And while kids are generally quick to point out what’s pleasing to their palates, they’re commonly clueless when it comes to the origin or healthfulness of the foods they consume.

But that’s about to change for students enrolled in Greco Middle School’s culinary arts program.

In conjunction with the school’s new Farm 2 School initiative, the kids will grow their own fruits and vegetables from seeds they plant and nurture in the school’s already established on-site garden plots.

When the produce reaches peak perfection, students will transport their harvest to the school’s kitchen. From there, the fresh fruits and vegetables will be incorporated into the culinary arts program’s meal planning and preparation classes and, in turn, be served to fellow students, staff members and guests.

The idea is the brainchild of Elizabeth Leib, a Temple Terrace resident who in 2011 founded Temple Terrace Community Gardens in which, in addition to starting gardening plots at Riverhills Magnet Elementary School, has created several parcels at Greco where community members have planted fruits and vegetables to both beautify the campus’ landscape and reap fresh produce for residents who root and tend to their plants.

Leib enlisted the expertise of Dr. Kip Curtis, an environmental studies professor at the St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida, to help get the Farm 2 Schools project off to a stellar start.

“Kip just has an enormous vision for this project and can bring some national awareness to this project,” Leib said.

In 2009 Curtis launched the highly successful Edible Peace Patch Project in seven South St. Petersburg schools located in low-income neighborhoods where fresh fruits and vegetables sold in nearby grocery stores are cost prohibitive for many of the students’ parents.

Curtis’ project, similar in theory to the fledgling program at Greco, led to an increase in the students’ attendance as well as an improvement in their grades.

In collaboration with Greco Principal Yinka Alege, Curtis has signed on as a paid consultant to set up a strategic plan for the program at the Temple Terrace school.

“This is an opportunity to do what is often called a farm-to-fork program and it’s particularly good for kids who aren’t generally excited about school and learning,” said Curtis, who spoke during a recent city council meeting about Greco’s new initiative.

“It’s an opportunity for mentors from the community to get involved and we’re also reaching out to students at USF (Tampa campus) to help us,” he added.

To help cover Curtis’ consultant costs, Leib organized a recent fundraising event at the Temple Crest home of Tanya Vidovic, a strong proponent of edible landscaping and an ardent supporter of the Farm 2 School effort at Greco. The gathering garnered $1,500 toward a goal of raising $2,500.

“This project will be one of the first in the country and we’re hoping it will kind of create a standard,” Vidovic said.

Alege concurred.

“It’s about giving kids hands-on experiences because they learn by doing,” he said. “Also, when the kids grow their own food, they are more inclined to eat it. And when they eat healthy, they perform better.”

For information about the project and to make a donation, visit edible educationproject.com/ temple-terrace-school -farm-to-school.htm.

Joyce McKenzie can be reached at joycecmckenzie@gmail.com.

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