As part of its multi-intervention approach to sustainable school meals programming, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA/FAS) through its flagship McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition (McGovern-Dole) program provides support for the establishment of school gardens.
These McGovern-Dole supported school gardens address a variety of needs. The gardens serve as a nature-based classroom to teach hands-on nutrition education and learn about food production. School gardens also complement the school meals prepared from USDA-donated commodities with local, healthy, and seasonal vegetables and fruit. When eating the fresh produce from school gardens, schoolchildren receive not only a nutritionally diverse diet, but also food they can take pride in knowing they helped grow.
In Nepal, the McGovern-Dole program implemented by the World Food Program (WFP) supports a Cooperative which is responsible for the management of school gardens. These school gardens produce fruit and vegetables to supplement school meals of students. Along with nutrition awareness activities, the school gardens are used as an educational tool for children, parents, and teachers to learn about the importance of nutrition. Kamala Lamichane, a member of the Cooperative, currently oversees the garden in Shree Helambu Basic School. Kamala says, “We are growing spinach, carrot, cucumber, beans, squash and many other vegetables in the garden. This way we can cook healthy and nutritious food for the children.” The Cooperative has established school gardens in nine schools across the Mahankal Village Development Committee in Kathmandu.
Meet Inu Keabudsham, he lives in the remote village of Phavy in Northern Laos. Inu is ten years old and as the only child in his family, is responsibile to take care of the housework, while his parents work in the fields. Inu is no ordinary child. He is the head boy of his class and plans to go to university and become a policeman one day. He proudly wears the key to the school kitchen and the storeroom. He is responsible for taking care of storekeeping duties and keeps the watering pots for the McGovern-Dole supported school garden.
Because of the McGovern-Dole program, Inu receives nutritious meals at school, concentrates better and learns to grow vegetables. He has also helped his parets to set up their own private garden to grow more diverse food. USDA support allows Inu and the other school children in 1,446 schools across the country to receive nutritious food and gain skills for the future.
In Rwanda, schoolchildren supported by the McGovern-Dole program which is implemented by WFP in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), learn proper weeding techniques and other agricultural application for growing maize. The harvested maize is used to supplement USDA-donated commodities.
In Guatemala, the McGovern Dole program implemented by the Catholic Relief Services, teach schoolchildren school gardening. They plant crops in raised beds designed in creative shapes including numbers and letters. Teachers link this to the school’s curriculum for lessons in science, math, and reading, making classes more interactive and meaningful. Students practice adding and subtracting using the shapes and numbers of the beds and plants. They also identify crops by name in both Spanish and K’iche’. This McGovern-Dole project prioritizes native plants that have traditionally been important in the Mayan culture. Students learn the uses and properties of the crops they harvest including how to add different plants to their daily diets and how to use them for medicinal purposes. To date, the project has established 20 school gardens and has included native plants such as apazote and hierbamora.
In Senegal, the McGovern-Dole program implemented by Counterpart International worked with local communities to establish 20 community farms in areas near the Senegal River where water is easily accessible. The head teachers from the local schools have given overwhelmingly positive feedback on how these new farms have helped to transform their communities. The produce from the farms is used in the school meals program, a method proven to increase school attendance and nutrition rates within these communities. Excess food is sold for cash, both to be reinvested in the management and maintenance of the school canteens, and to support the purchase of protein and other types of food unavailable within the community. To complement the USDA-donated commodities of rice, peas, cornmeal, lentil and vegetable oil, the community produces rice and maize during the rainy season (July through October), and they produce cabbage, tomatoes, onions, pepper and okra, during the dry season (November through June). This allows for a diversification of the school lunch menu. Mrs. Ly Dethie Fall, President of the School Management of the UGB Preschool in Saint Louis, lauded the benefit of the gardens. “The production of onions and tomatoes allows us to prepare nutritious and tasty meals for children. In addition, we plan to sell the surplus that will be reinvested to the benefit of the canteen.”
As a result of the community farming efforts, a total of 7.874 tons of rice, cowpeas, sorghum and millet were harvested for the school granaries in 81 communities. According to Desire Yameogo, Counterpart International’s Country Director, “The community understands the philosophy of the school granary. There have been so many stories of success. In Gadaty, for instance, the community was suffering from severe food insecurity, but thanks to this program they have been able to provide two sheep and three goats which were sold to supply the school granary.”