From the Garden to the Table

San Francisco Middle School Eat and Live Green Project

Project Overview

Chronic diseases account for five of the leading six causes of death in the United States. The impact of chronic disease on millions of Americans is compounded by prolonged illness and disability. Low-income communities and especially Black and Hispanic Americans in these communities bear the greatest burden of chronic disease and the risk is steadily increasing among youth. As alarming as these trends are, studies demonstrate that these illnesses are preventable through improved lifestyles.

From the Garden to the Table (FGTT) is a green community prevention program focused on improving lifestyle choices to reduce chronic disease. FGTT is partnering with Everett Middle School in San Francisco to renovate a storeroom into a green, solar-powered teaching kitchen for delivering student, family, and community cooking, environmental, and health education programs. The kitchen will include green, sustainable building materials and equipment for teaching about healthy personal and environmental food, cleaning, and building choices.

This project is a first and it is critically needed. It directly improves the health of students and families in this low-income Mission neighborhood and demonstrates that their health is important; that they deserve a clean learning environment, and that they are essential partners in creating a healthier, greener, less polluted future. This project is a prototype for renovating existing, unused space to create a green teaching kitchen to comprehensively address health through food, activity, and sustainable living.

Sheahan and Quandt (LEED AP) have completed the plans for the teaching kitchen and sustainable Canyon Construction will build the kitchen. We have support from Everett Middle School Principal Robert Curci, San Francisco Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Joan Hepperly, and members of the school board.

Background and Need

From the Garden to the Table staff knows what it is like to grow up with limited resources, they grew up in low-income communities. They grew up in city food deserts, and shopped at corner stores, dodged fists and bullets to make it home, prepared meals for their family, and waited for a parent to return home. They see the essential need for opportunities and access to resources and education to build healthy, productive, and active communities.  The partnership between Everett Middle School and From the Garden to the Table focuses on improving personal health, promoting environmental sustainability, and building successful communities.

The school has over 50 teaching, administrative, and clerical staff serving 501 students. The students’ backgrounds include 59% Hispanic, 21% African American, 8% Asian, 6% Filipino, and many other ethnic origins. The school is making gains academically, so why the need for this project?  The reasons are threefold, 1) well-nourished, healthy students learn better; 2) improved student physical fitness and eating behaviors are needed; and 3) a healthier learning and home environment can reduce risk of chronic disease and student health problems.

1) Active, well-nourished students learn better:
Poor dietary habits impair school performance and cognitive development.  Research shows that hunger is related to lack of attentiveness and poor performance on standardized tests.  In addition, under-nutrition along with poverty and a lack of environmental stimulation can permanently retard physical growth, brain development, and cognitive functioning. A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study classified 11 % of Californians as food insecure.  In San Francisco, the rate is higher; 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 4 children in San Francisco face the threat of hunger.  School meal programs, along with student and community access to and instruction on cooking affordable and familiar ingredients are needed to prevent the consequences of both poor nutrition choices and lack of food.

School health education, meal, and physical activity programs further support student achievement by providing essential nutrition for learning, and instruction for improving lifestyle habits. A study of school breakfast programs in Minnesota, found that students participating in these programs were more energetic, better prepared to learn, better behaved, and had fewer visits to the school nurse, and increased
reading and math scores. The California Healthy Kids Survey reported that students made greater progress in raising test scores when students engaged in healthy eating and physical activity.

Even with the gains in academic achievement seen in Everett Middle School, student learning and test results could further improve with a comprehensive health and physical development program that includes a fresh, organic snack program, as well as cooking, health education, physical activity, and green living and cleaning classes for students, families, and the community.

2) Improved student physical fitness and eating behaviors are needed:
Ethnically diverse students, such as the student community at Everett, are hardest hit by poor fitness and overweight. Everett Middle School ‘s results on the 2008-09 California Physical Fitness Test are lower than those of the state and school district. The goal of the California physical fitness test is for students to achieve the healthy fitness levels in six fitness areas. The 2008-09 results showed that 64%, 65%, and 97% of seventh grade students in California, San Francisco Unified School District, and Everett Middle School, respectively did not achieve healthy levels in all six fitness areas. At Everett, 46% of seventh grade students did not meet the health levels for body composition or are overweight.

Research gives clues to the causes of poor fitness and overweight. In diverse communities, many students eat fast food frequently and skip breakfast  (50% of African-American children, 37% of Latino children; 36% of Asian and 23% of white children eat fast food three or more times per week and 78% of African American, 70% of Latino youth, 65% of Asian youths skip breakfast).  Teaching healthy shopping and meal preparation skills, not just recipes, is crucial since many students shop for food for their families and prepare their own food, usually with inexpensive, quick to prepare ingredients.  In many low-income communities, eating patterns are further compromised by lack of access to fresh food, especially fruits and vegetables.  Even when neighborhood markets are accessible, food quality may be poor and frequently there are no choices between traditionally and organically grown foods. With limited access to fresh and organic ingredients, risk of pesticide exposure increases posing new problems of toxicity especially among children. Consumer Reports found that children who eat just a single serving of non-organic fruits and vegetables exceed the safe daily limit of certain pesticides.
These physical fitness and eating patterns are alarming, and the consequences are striking students and their families with increasing risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. “We are deeply concerned that because of this trend today’s children may become the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents,” said Freny Mody, M.D., cardiologist and member of the American Heart Association Los Angeles County Board of Directors.

3) The learning and home environment can compound student health problems:
Providing a clean school and home environment for learning are as critical to student health and achievement as providing access to food and activity. Building materials used in classrooms and homes, such as particleboard, insulation, carpet adhesives, and other products emit formaldehyde that can cause nausea and respiratory problems, eye irritation, and inflamed skin. Poor ventilation, upholstery, paint, carpets, and cleaning products can contain hazardous compounds that further contribute to poor respiratory health and possibly cancer. The products and compounds we use everyday for cleaning, painting, and building can impact respiratory health, risk of asthma, chronic disease; and therefore students’ health, attendance, and learning.

From the Garden to the Table (FGTT) will reduce and prevent youth and family health problems by renovating an existing storeroom at Everett Middle School into a solar-powered green teaching kitchen. This project is a first. The kitchen will be a teaching tool because of the way it is designed and built. Sheahan + Quandt designed the plans, Canyon Construction will build the kitchen, and FGTT will oversee the completion of the teaching facility. The kitchen will be a green gathering center to plan and present school and after school classes to students, staff, families, and community members. The teaching kitchen and classes will:

  • build skills to address traditional and fast-food dietary habits that contribute to poor school performance and nutrition-related diseases;
  • use sustainable, toxin-free building materials and equipment, organic foods, and environmentally safe cleaning products to reduce children’s exposure to pesticides and other environmental toxins;
  • provide a gathering place to model and teach the benefits of a green/clean lifestyle, and to promote skills in the growing culinary and green building fields.

FGTT is working with other schools and districts to expand this model in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and California to promote active, green lifestyles, and to sustain lifelong change.

Project Team

Sheahan + Quandt,
LEED AP Architecture – Interiors – Sustainable Design

Canyon Construction
Sustainable Building

High-Quality, Custom, Sustainable Furniture and Cabinetry

Prepared by

Jeffrey Smith
From the Garden to the Table
Phone: 510-841-4335

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