Over one in four Toronto children report that they don’t eat lunch, which may be just as well since the cafeteria food the other students eat is low grade, fat-laden, salt and sugar laced. In Canada, public health surveys show that over 60 percent of boys and nearly 70 percent of girls age nine to thirteen consume well below the minimum of five servings of vegetables and fruit. Instead of these healthful foods, the children are snacking on junk food and sometimes turning treat foods into meals. Nearly 30 percent of the daily calories consumed by Canadian children comes from non-nutritive junk food.
Make no mistake, a child that eats mostly junk food may not be hungry but they are still malnourished and may very well rank with the poor and underfed children around the world in terms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Children who don’t eat breakfast and don’t eat vegetables and fruits, either because of fussiness, or worse – because of lack of availability of fresh produce, experience greater difficulties with learning, decreased immunity and compromised growth. Schools in particular give evidence to these effects, and schools are where the most promising solutions are found.
Since the late 1970s, over 500 school breakfast programs have been initiated and run by local volunteers in partnership with community organizations and some food companies. These programs receive limit government funding and money for food and resources is stretched thin. Necessity being the mother of invention, many schools have gotten creative with their food sources taking matters into their own hands, quite literally, by planting vegetable gardens in the shared spaces of their local community. School gardens provide a lesson in biology, geography, sociology and physical activity as students work together to build the soil lots, research the types of seeds that will flourish, and tend the garden until it’s time to divvy up the harvest.
And the harvest is plentiful and as diverse as it’s growers with okra, eggplant, garlic bulbs and fennel mingling with the more common tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and basil. Inner-city neighbourhoods all around Toronto are breaking through the grim statistics on lack of nutrition for children by growing their own fresh vegetables in the school yard. Seeing a child eat a fresh leaf of lettuce they just picked from the field, you know that more than growing bodies are being nourished. The community has also been fed.