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Chipping Hills Micro Farms’ (CHMF) mission is to combat childhood obesity in urban settings by supporting and encouraging children to eat healthy while learning how sustainable agriculture relates to their communities and environment. Our programs teach children about growing food through direct interaction with the soil, herbs, flowers and vegetables. We pull and eat fresh greens directly from Micro Farms the children themselves have helped plant.
2. Target Population
Obesity is worsening across the country, with Philadelphia leading the way. Many neighborhoods in Philadelphia have little to no access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. These communities are known as “food deserts.” Low-income areas typically have fewer supermarkets per-capita than high-income areas. Philadelphia has the second-lowest number of supermarkets per capita in the United States. To compound the problem, low-income families often do not own a vehicle and may find healthy foods inaccessible. Food sold at corner markets and stores in Philadelphia’s food deserts offer little produce or whole, unprocessed grains, but plenty of highly-processed, sugar and preservative filled options. In the latter half of the 20th century, grocery stores followed the trend of suburbanization, leaving a void that has yet to be filled. Day cares, preschools, and elementary schools—where many inner city kids receive their most significant meal of the day--have mirrored the corner store shelves with their cafeteria offerings. This lack of nutrition leads not only to immediate fatigue, decreased attention spans, and depression, but diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other chronic disease in the long term. The health consequences of food deserts can be spread genetically and generationally, making it crucial that we impact children’s eating habits as early as possible.
3. Organization and Services
One way to impact eating habits is to educate children about real food. Direct experience with soil, gardens, farms, and fresh produce has a more affect on a child than abstract teaching about nutrition or the food pyramid. Yet children from all economic levels, and particularly those living in impoverished urban sectors of Philadelphia, have little understanding of where food comes from. Food has become disassociated from the natural and agricultural systems that produce it. To many children, the food we eat comes from the store and is just “always there”. In all but the most rural settings, there are few common life experiences that help children recognize that their latest meal came from the land, whether directly or indirectly.
Chipping Hill Micro Farms Letter of Intent CHMF installs Micro Farms and grows vegetables in partnership with schools, daycares, and community centers. Micro Farms are innovative cedar boxes equipped with light bulbs, ceramic heaters, propagation panels and/or light-capturing polycarbonate panels thermostatically controlled to maintain temperatures of at least 70 degrees for year-round growing. They are proven, miniature agricultural systems, and support a curriculum that includes basic principals of agriculture and botany, seed germination, soil formulation, garden companions, weeds, and garden planning. Students take responsibility for maintaining their own boxes, from planting and watering to harvesting and eating. CHMF currently produces food and offers garden and nutrition curriculum at seven Philadelphia locations. Weekly tastings of salads and vegetables grown in our Micro Farms occur at each of the sites to complement age appropriate lessons, which include gardening, agriculture, botany, and environmental studies. At ACPPA Community Art Center in Norristown, children age 11-14 assisted in the building of a 4 by 8 foot Micro Farm, growing 12 types of vegetables. Jubilee School 5th and 6th graders in West Philadelphia started vegetables indoors then transplanted them to a portable Micro Farm on site. At an afterschool program at Tree House Books in North Philadelphia, CHMF runs a Micro Farming program to supplement afterschool snacks for children age 6-12, and assists in the design and implementation of a summer camp. We also impact students during their formative preschool and kindergarten years. We bring farm to school programming to 2-5 year-olds at LibertyMe Dance Center with a 4 x 13 foot Micro Farm as well as a 4 x 6 foot garden bed. The Micro Farm is heated with a 400 watt propagation panel embedded in the soil, allowing for year-round teaching opportunities. Awbury Arboretum in East Germantown is home to both portable and permanent Micro Farms, supported by the resources of a small greenhouse attached to a dedicated classroom and kitchen space. We operate one-hour classes for daycare groups up to four days a week. Groups of 10-30 children return weekly to watch the growth of the garden, eat fresh picked veggies, and play in the arboretum’s green space. North Light Community Center in Manayunk hosts multiple classes for ages 3-11, and an 8week summer camp for 35 children. Using two portable Micro Farms, we began by teaching soil formulation and seed germination, and now tend and eat vegetables. Wyck Historic House and Garden has integrated our Micro Farms into their extensive summer programming that impacts 500 Germantown children. A permanent Micro Farm has enabled us to continue our programming year-round.
Chipping Hill Micro Farms Letter of Intent
4. Supporting Research and Evidence
The experience of planting a seed, watching it grow, nurturing the plant by watering, weeding, and guarding against pests, then watching it mature and bear fruit, instills in children a lesson they will not soon forget. They often become more adventurous in eating fresh produce when it comes from their own garden. This willingness to try unfamiliar vegetables leads to healthier eating habits that, once formed, can last a lifetime. A profusion of research in the last two decades indicates that direct, frequent experience with the natural world produces positive physical, mental and emotional benefits in children and adults. Improved cognitive functioning includes enhanced ability to focus, observation skills, recall of information, creativity and the ability to reason. Reduced stress and self-esteem are also among the positive results when children are allowed unstructured time to explore the outdoors. Many specialists in child development now believe that regular contact with the natural world is essential to the emotional development of children. Compelled by this research, we encourage children to be curious, get dirty, start a nature journal, and use their “listen,” “smell,” and “watch” senses. Our most important lesson to date has been that children must take ownership of their eating habits. You can’t empower a child to make healthy choices by simply putting carrots on their plate; they must build a relationship with their food from the roots up. We have seen again and again that when a child helps germinate and tend a seed, water and protect it from weeds, and watch it grow, they’ll make the choice to taste it on their own. That first bite is exciting. Children report they love the taste--now associated with a multisensory, tactile experience—and go home asking their parents for more. Involving children in all stages of the process, from planting to harvest, even on a very small scale, imparts an understanding of self-sufficiency and sustainability, and makes healthy eating both natural and desirable. Children willingly choose vegetables over sugary, processed foods, as long as the carrot on their plate has a story as appealing as Cheetos’ Chester Cheetah.
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