First-grade teachers at Richard R. Green Central Park School in Minneapolis were excited to receive an American Heart Association Teaching Garden to learn about healthy foods by planting their own garden.

They were planning to teach the kids in January about the growing cycle, giving them a good foundation before planting started in March.

Then they started thinking more about their planting season – specifically, how often it is cut short by spring snows. They realized that if they waited until after snow season to start planting, the kids already would be on summer vacation when it was time to harvest the produce.

So they came up with a new plan.


Instead of a traditional garden – horizontally on the ground, outdoors – Green Central Park built its garden vertically in boxes, indoors.

They did so by using vertical garden frames, which include special lights to sustain the plants. Students planted tomatoes, green beans, arugula, peppermint, cilantro, tomatillos, summer squash and radishes.

Planting began in early March. Some vegetables were harvested in May, and were enjoyed as ingredients in pizzas they made.

Organizers felt great about their innovation – and their forecasting skills.

“We had a blizzard May 2,” said Candida Gonzalez, a community education coordinator at the school.


The decision to shift the project indoors has additional benefits, such as being able to plant year-round, not just during traditional growing season.

“We’ll be able to get three harvests off this a year,” Candida said.

The Minneapolis pilot project, which the kids named “The Magic Garden,” is the first vertical version in American Heart Association’s Teaching Gardens program. Another pilot has sprouted up at the elementary school of the Nay Ah Shing Tribal School on the The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Reservation in central Minnesota. A pilot program for another type of indoor growing (involving hydroponics) is under way at Moss Haven Elementary in Dallas.

Teaching Gardens are a proven tool in the fight against childhood obesity. They are fun, hands-on ways for youngsters to learn what it means to be healthy, lessons they are able to take home and share with their families.

Through the program, students learn how to plant seeds, nurture growing plants and harvest produce. Garden-themed lessons teach nutrition, math and science. The American Heart Association has planted more than 200 Teaching Gardens across the country.

At Green Central Park, about 65 first-graders used the garden to complement their health and safety program, learning about healthy eating. They planted vegetables and flowers as part of both a science program and neighborhood beautification project.

Another dozen students worked with the garden in an after school program, reading both fiction and non-fiction books about gardens and keeping journals with their predictions, measurements and other experiences.

Megan McCormick, the first-grade teacher at Green Central Park who applied for the American Heart Association Teaching Garden, said the hands-on experience motivated students to learn more about healthy foods and eat them.

“Students were interested in trying new foods because they had grown them and had a closer connection to the garden,” Megan said. “Students were very excited about seeing the garden grow and often stopped in the hall to check it out between sessions.”

She especially enjoyed seeing kids pick leaves of arugula and simply pop them in their mouths.

“It was great seeing non-veggie lovers rave about it,” she said.

Megan said the program offered valuable life-long lessons for her students.

“Students need to learn about healthy eating from a young age,” she said. “When they’re involved in growing the vegetables, they’ll be more likely to try them.” 


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