First Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community for Delaware to benefit numerous area agencies.
A Hockessin based nonprofit is hoping a new event will feed their future growth as fully as the vegetables they teach kids to plant and harvest.
For founder Thianda Manzara, it’s important to get kids outside and engaged in their environment, since so few of them seem to enjoy that activity these days.
“Some of them are terrified of it. So I want them to have some comfort level with it,” she said.
And her way of confronting that problem was to address it where it can count – in their schools.
The Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids organization has its roots in a program started at Springer Elementary School in the Brandywine School District from 2005.
“The idea was to see if it was practical to have a gardening program in the context of a public school,” he said. “And that worked out really well, so we started as a nonprofit in 2008.”
Since then, the Healthy Foods program has grown to over 20 schools throughout the county, and one school in Rehoboth, with vegetable gardens that are fully incorporated into the school’s science program.
Manzara said their program attempts to engage every student in the school in the whole process of growing a garden, from seed to table.
Each grade level then takes on specific responsibilities to keep the garden managed and to keep the children invested in the results – most of which usually winds up being served in the school’s cafeteria.
Each grade’s job also ties into their specific science curriculum, Manzara said – for example, second graders will prepare the soil for planting while also studying soil in the classroom.
“I like them to walk away with an appreciation for the value of fresh vegetables in a healthy diet,” Manzara said. “I like them to also feel comfortable with gardening, and see that it’s a fun activity.”
The gardens grow cool weather fast growing vegetables, like radishes, spinach, turnips, lettuce and kale, which are in turn prepared and served to the students at most of the schools in the program.
Manzara, a former biology professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, said that she’s always had an idea for this kind of program in the back of her mind, but never thought it was practical.
A special on chef and activist Alice Waters from 2005 that featured a similar program she’d successfully developed and launched called the Edible Schoolyard,” changed her mind.
Manzara said she eventually paid a visit to the site in California and was impressed by what she saw.
“I just thought, ‘why don’t we do this in Delaware?’” she said.
In an effort to expand their program, Healthy Foods is one of 17 beneficiaries of the first Highmark “Walk for a Healthy Community” event in Delaware this September.
Kelly DeAngelis, public relations at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware, said that the Highmark walk events are different in that Highmark Delaware underwrites the entire cost of the walk and handles all the logistics.
“That way, the participating nonprofits keep 100 percent of the money that they raise,” she said. “This way, they can fully utilize the power of the walk.”
DeAngelis said that Highmark has had many years of successful walks in Pennsylvania, and is expanding the program to health-based organizations that work to improve the lives of Delawareans.
She also said they’re glad to work with Healthy Foods for their first ever walk in Delaware.
“It’s a great organization, and exposes many kids who wouldn’t otherwise understand where their food comes from to fresh, local produce,” she said.
Healthy Kids is looking for walkers to sign up for the Sept. 13 walk at Bellevue State Park. To participate, go to healthyfoodsforhealthykids.org.