Left to right, Seeds to Snacks ECU student intern Morgan Kunsman, sixth-grader Jordan McKenzie and ECU student leader Jordan Hostetler check the soil and mulch around some tomato plants in the garden at the Boys & Girls Club in Winterville. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

ECU students teach nutrition through gardening in afterschool program

May 1, 2015

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

An innovative East Carolina University program is planting ideas – and vegetables – with some Pitt County Schools students.

Seeds to Snacks is a curriculum that helps teach kids about eating and growing healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Lessons on gardening, team building, service learning, career development and STEM are taught by ECU students, volunteers and community members at the Boys & Girls Clubs in Greenville and Winterville.
Kimberlain Childers, an ECU student volunteer, helps sixth-grader Jordan McKenzie re-plant a leafy green in the garden.

“Some kids may not have access to fresh food,” said Alice Raad, ECU’s Seeds to Snacks coordinator, who leads a team of undergraduate students who work with about 25 Pitt County children each week.

On a recent cool and drizzly Wednesday afternoon, Jordan Hostetler, a nutrition science major at ECU, took five middle school students outside. It’s a short walk from the main building on Fire Tower Road to the club’s 11 garden beds.

The day’s lesson was on farmers markets and the kinds of vegetables and fruits offered there. Hostetler and the students talked about leafy greens, cabbage and tomatoes, which were beginning to sprout nicely from the ground. They talked about the parts of the plant, and how plants need sun, water and oxygen to grow.

When she asked “what’s another thing that plants get nutrients from?” students answered “compost” and “soil.”

“You know what we need to do? We need to weed,” Hostetler said, as the students began pulling up unwanted grass. “Don’t pull it from the top. Remember to get way down from the bottom,” she said.

Jordan McKenzie, a sixth-grader at Hope Middle School, said he has grown cucumbers and strawberries at home. “I like to eat vegetables that I grow myself,” he said.

Called the “guardian of the garden,” Jason Lindsay with Greenville Harvest – a nonprofit group dedicated to eating healthy and sustainable stewardship of the environment – helped prepare and plant the beds and maintains the garden at the club. The goal is for the children to eventually tend the garden on their own.
A middle school student repositions a plant in the garden bed.

On Thursday and Friday afternoons, students learn about nutrition. Recently guest speaker Kristen Zwingler, a second-year ECU graduate student in the physical activity promotion concentration, talked with students about exercise.

She debunked some common myths, including the idea that you shouldn’t eat while running a marathon.

“If you ran 26.2 miles and didn’t eat, you’d have no energy left,” Zwingler said. “You can’t eat a hamburger while you’re running, but you could have a little banana or energy gel pack. You have to be strategic about what you eat.”

She added that drinking water while exercising is important. Experts recommend at least 16 ounces for every hour of activity, Zwingler said.

Jayline Small, a sophomore at South Central High School, has been coming to the nutrition class since it started. “They explain it so I know what they’re talking about without using big words,” She said.

The lessons have stuck with South Central junior Rikeema Barfield. “You learn what’s good for you and what’s not good for you,” she said.

Robert Hill, director of Jarvis unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs in downtown Greenville, said the program has been a great addition to their programs. “Our members anxiously look forward to their arrival every Friday and truly enjoy learning about the nutritional and scientific aspects of healthy foods,” Hill said.

“The program leaders do an outstanding job at creating exciting methods to teach about living a healthy lifestyle."

Having transitioned from the former Snack RX program, Seeds to Snacks is funded through a Vidant Health Foundation Community Benefit Grant and directed by Dr. Elizabeth Wall-Bassett, ECU associate professor of nutrition science in the College of Human Ecology.

In addition to Raad and Hostetler, ECU student leaders and interns are Zainab Moss and Karsyn Tall, nutrition science majors, and Kaylan Bristol and Morgan Kunsman, who are majoring in public health studies with a concentration in community health.

Pictured below, ECU students Jordan Hostetler, second from right, Kimberlain Childers, right, and Morgan Kunsman, third from right, weed a garden bed with middle school students at the Boys & Girls Club on Fire Tower Road in Greenville.