Physicians at Olympia Pediatrics are hoping to plant healthy eating habits in children by introducing them to free fresh fruits and vegetables from the clinic’s own community garden.
“Many children don't have the opportunity see where their food comes from or have the chance to pick a strawberry and eat it straight from the plant,” said Janelle Tiegs, the clinic administrator at Olympia Pediatrics. “Our garden gives them the opportunity to interact with their food.”
Data show a quarter of students in Thurston County are at unhealthy weights.
The goal of the garden is to teach healthy eating habits to children by getting them involved in the growing process. It also provides incentive for children to get their shots — they can pick a berry after the shot — and patients can take fresh-picked food home with them. People who visit the garden — and all are welcome — learn about the history of herbs and nutritional facts as well.
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“This is a wonderful project,” said Chris Hawkins, the Community Engagement, Evidence and Partnership program manager for Thurston County Public Health. “We focus on making healthier choices easier for community members. The effort to improve the health of our community is vital.”
There are 13 community gardens in Thurston County and more being planned. Olympia Pediatrics worked with Garden Raised Bounty, a nonprofit focused on building community through gardening, to open the garden in 2014. This season the garden is growing 18 different fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Dr. Brad Stephens, who helped start the garden, said it can be difficult for some families to eat five servings of fruits and veggies a day. Healthy fresh food can be expensive and it can be hard to persuade children to eat healthy foods.
Those challenges have contributed to the growing concern about childhood obesity. More than 2 in 3 Thurston County eighth-graders are not eating enough fruit or vegetables each day or getting enough moderate physical activity, according to the 2010 Child Healthy Weight Initiative report.
Dr. Stephens said studies have shown that gardens help increase the availability and consumption of fresh food and can help children maintain a healthy weight.
The response “has been very positive,” Stephens said. “Kids love picking strawberries and raspberries after getting their shots.”
“It is fun to see children so excited to pick the fruit and stuff it in their faces,” Tiegs said. “Some parents think ‘Maybe we could do this at home’ ” after visiting the garden.
More information is available at olympiapediatrics.wix.com/thechildrensgarden.