By: Jenny Alpaugh | Photography: Alli Binder
Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots. Just the mention of these names can cause the faces of elementary school children to twist into expressions of disgust. However, Sophie Gilberga set out to change that with the Lunchbox Garden Club.
“Our mission from the very beginning has been to teach kids about food and where it comes from and why it’s important,” says Gilberga, a senior economics and political science major from New Orleans, La. “We want kids to appreciate food and know where it’s coming from and know that it doesn’t just appear in the grocery store and actually has to grow from the ground.”
Gilberga participated in freshmen forum in 2012 and was required to complete a service project. She had the idea to work at a school garden, so she contacted Barnett Shoals Elementary School.
“Somehow I knew that they had a school garden, but they didn’t use it. It was there, but it just needed maintenance and needed someone to come work in it,” Gilberga says.
After working with the students for a semester, Gilberga decided she wanted to continue this project in a more permanent form, and thus the Lunchbox Garden project was created.
“My main goal even from the beginning was I wanted this to outlast me,” Gilberga says. “It doesn’t mean anything if it only lasts when I’m here, and it doesn’t do anything after that.”
Twice a week at Barnett Shoals Elementary School, and beginning this semester, once a week at the Rock Springs Community Center, UGA student-volunteers garden with elementary-aged students and teach them about different aspects of a healthy lifestyle and about sustainability.
The students are able to plant their own vegetables at the beginning of the semester, water, weed them throughout the semester and harvest them at the end.
“I think gardening is a good avenue for kids to learn about just living a healthy lifestyle in general,” says Clayton Wing, master gardener and senior biological sciences major from Bogart. “It’s just a fun way to get kids outside doing something that they might not normally do.”
As master gardener, Wing has built all of the garden beds that are being used at the elementary school and community center and helps to decide which seeds and seedlings will be best to plant. At each meeting of the Lunchbox Garden Club, the elementary school students are taught how to take care of these plants.
“We take out all of the watering cans, and the kids know to come grab one out of the bin and go line up at the water spout, and they each fill up their own watering spout,” says Kirstie Hosetter, executive director of the Lunchbox Garden Club and a junior environmental economics and management major from Memphis, Tenn. “One interesting thing is that sometimes the sprouting vegetables can look like weeds. So we have to be really careful to tell the kids, ‘No that’s not [a weed], that needs to stay there,’ so that’s been funny.”
Through interactive lessons, such as making butter, learning about alternative forms of energy by making paper pinwheels and tasting days, students are exposed to different types of foods and the idea of sustainability.The Lunchbox Garden Club also incorporates lessons that explore more imaginative ways to prepare vegetables and fruits with the elementary school students. Wing hopes that these lessons can impact families as well.
“Studies have shown that kids actually change their habits of their households on what they eat. So if a child can learn something that’s beneficial for them and bring it home to their parents and maybe their parents will start doing it,” Wing says.
Hosetter has participated in the Lunchbox Garden Club since her freshman year and will continue to lead the growing program next year. She looks forward to working with the elementary school students each week.
“It’s just been really great. I really love it. It’s also challenging, especially when the kids don’t want to pay attention,” Hosetter says. “But [the] Lunchbox Garden Club has been that thing I can go back to where even if I’m having a tough day and even if I’m not having a great day with the kids, just being around them is very re-energizing.”
Gilberga’s service project that turned into a club also led to a change in her career trajectory. She says her work has helped her to realize that she wants to do non-profit work, and her ultimate goal is to start her own non-profit.
“It’s really a joy. You get to be around the kids and see them excited about what we’re doing,” Gilberga says. “It makes my day, even a day that’s stressful and I'm stressed about Lunchbox Garden and I’m frustrated about it, it makes it worth it just to be there with them.”
For more information on the Lunchbox Garden Club, visit Facebook.com/TheLunchboxGardenProject.