Teaching people to grow, cook and eat healthy foods is the key goal of a partnership between the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia and the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia. 

Camaria Welch, a graduate student in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, has created a curriculum of lesson plans and activities to help people understand the connection between nature and food, and how to develop healthy eating habits.

During a summer camp at the garden, Welch used the curriculum, called Bee Smart Eat Smart, to help 5 to 10 year olds plant seeds, decorate aprons and read books such as “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey. They also did arts and crafts and participated in theater, acting out skits dressed as fruits and vegetables.

The campers made eggplant pizza, with a crust made from roasted eggplant, pasta with pesto (which helped disguise the cucumber, kale and other greens mixed in) and mango sunrise smoothies to introduce the children to fruits they may not have tried.

The importance of pollinators

“My curriculum is divided into five lessons, each featuring a fruit and vegetable, chosen specifically of their role in helping pollinators,” said Welch, who is earning a master’s degree in foods and nutrition. “Each day has its own color theme. The first day, for instance, is red, so we’re talking about strawberries and red bell peppers. I want to make kids excited about eating vegetables and find recipes that make them palatable.”

About two-thirds of crop varieties around the world depend on pollinators, so programs that feature these types of food plants increase awareness of the important role of pollinators and the need for pollinator conservation.

Pollinators are needed for many plants to grow, and they are in danger, bees in particular. In 2007, the U.S. Senate approved and designated a week in June as “National Pollinator Week,” as a step toward addressing the issue of declining pollinator populations. This year, June 18 – 24 celebrates the role of pollinators.

Cooking classes

In addition to the camp, Welch is implementing a modified version of Bee Smart Eat Smart at the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia’s site in Clayton, Georgia. She will lead cooking classes for parents and children in the teaching kitchen on the Food Bank site.

In April, State Botanical Garden Education Director Cora Keber and Heather Alley, conservation horticulturist at the garden’s Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Species, planted a pollinator garden at the Clayton food bank site, designed to draw bees, butterflies and other native pollinators to the vegetable and fruits growing outside the facility.

The food bank pollinator garden is part of a State Botanical Garden program called Connect to Protect. So far, more than 20 Connect to Protect gardens have been installed in Athens-Clarke County and surrounding areas, as well as in Macon and Atlanta.

At the food bank, the pollinator garden will be part of the lesson plan for local residents, said Cara-Lee Langston, the food bank’s teaching kitchen coordinator.

Grow and eat local food

“We’re all about teaching families where their food comes from,” Langston said. “Folks up here understand how important local food is.”

The lesson plans, activities and materials that Welch developed for the Bee Smart Eat Smart program will be distributed to schools where Connect to Protect gardens are planted, and used in the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s Alice H. Richard Children’s Garden, which is under construction and should open by early 2019.

Funding for Welch’s graduate assistantship at the State Botanical Garden was provided by the Pittulloch Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports programs for children. Foundation President Lynn Pattillo is a member of the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia advisory board.

“My organization’s hope is that the State Botanical Garden relays Welch’s work to garden clubs across Georgia, so they can transfer the message into school systems and strengthen relationships with local food banks,” Pattillo said. “Providing ongoing education via seminars, speakers, cooking classes and classroom visits will further reinforce the important message that we are what we eat.”

written by: Leah Moss