May 12, 2017

Planting the Seeds of Sustainable Health

by Rebecca Endres ’15

What if solving the problem of hunger in local communities was simply a matter of grabbing a watering can?

Adelphi alumna Sharla-Renee Hart ’09, M.A. ’14, and Cynthia Proscia, M.A. ’92, assistant professor, Ruth S. Ammon School of Education’s Exercise Science, Health Studies, Physical Education and Sport Management, have co-founded an initiative to bring sustainability and health education to Hempstead elementary schools—an initiative that  involves some dirt, some seeds and a lot of teamwork.

The School Garden Initiative (or S.E.E.D.S—Schools Engaging the Entire Development of Students) is all about putting the power to make healthy choices in the hands of the children in low-income communities. Hart began the project through her parish in Hempstead on Long Island.

“One of the visions that we have at the parish is improved quality of life for the residents of Hempstead as well as neighboring communities,” Hart explained. Her plan involved planting gardens in elementary schools and teaching the students to grow vegetables that they could then bring home and share with their families.

To help make her idea reality, she turned to her former professor, Proscia. The two then wrote up a proposal, raised funds, and reached out to several elementary schools. Island Harvest agreed to help establish the gardens and educational classes, and three schools are currently involved in the program. Now they have an advisory committee and are in the process of writing up state and national grants.

Hart said the initial S.E.E.D.S. garden locations, all in Hempstead, are Franklin Elementary School, Barack Obama Elementary School and Jackson Main School.

Hart and Proscia hope to get even more schools involved, as well as to increase opportunities for Adelphi students to contribute.

“We can have Adelphi students doing a few hours of fieldwork there each week,” Proscia said. “We can get TESOL involved; 86 percent of incoming students in Hempstead are Spanish-speaking or bilingual. The School of Education can get involved, and the School of Social Work.”

“What happened in the past six months is out of control,” she added. “We did not expect it to take off like this.”

“Food security is a part of building a healthy community,” Hart explained. Her initial goal was to tackle obesity, hypertension, and other health problems in the community. Now, she’s teaching methods that will impact families for generations.

Down the road, Hart said, the plan is to get more funding so that they can build greenhouses either on school grounds or nearby in the community.

Proscia added that things are continuing to come together to ensure the program’s ongoing success.

“Sharla-Renee is working on a website, and we’re branding,” she said. “It’s exciting to see it come to fruition. We’re seeing the fruit of our labors.


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