Massachusetts Success Stories

Green Island Gardens

This story was submitted by UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program, a SNAP-Ed Implementing Agency.

UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program (NEP) provides nutrition education and obesity prevention programs. It partners with a variety of programs throughout Massachusetts. For this program, UMass Extension partnered with Pernet Family (Health) Service of Worcester. Pernet Family Service helps families and individuals become strong, healthy, and self-sufficient.

youth posing in front of their garden

Participants
10 youth of Worcester, MA

Program
Youth worked in a community garden and planter program, called the Green Island Gardens (GIG) project. It was a summer job program through Pernet. The goal was to beautify the retail and residential areas in Worchester. Pernet adopted a state-owned island for this project. They committed to maintain the grounds, and grow fresh produce, herbs, and flowers.

youth working in their garden

Youth started a raised bed garden from scratch. They learned how to use and care for garden tools. They grew:

      • squash
      • tomatoes
      • green peppers
      • basil
      • dill
      • mint
      • eggplant
      • beans
      • Swiss chard
      • kale
      • collard greens

Then they donated edible produce to Pernet’s Food Pantry. This fit Pernet’s mission of giving and receiving.

squash picked from the garden

UMass Extension Nutrition Education Program completed a three-week SNAP-Ed series with the youth. The garden was a focal point for the lessons. Each nutrition lesson included a discussion topic. The students also prepared recipes in Pernet’s kitchen.

The first nutrition lesson focused on the edible parts of a plant. The class discussed how foods from a garden or farm fit into a healthy diet. They also identified all edible parts of a plant. This taught them to reduce waste from plants. Then the youth made hummus with different vegetables for dipping. They found ways to use all parts of a plant from seed to leaf.

The second topic was hydration and physical activity. The goal of this class was to have the youth drink water throughout the day. They learned to identify fruits and vegetables with high water content. They also learned ways to increase their physical activity. The nutrition educator encouraged the students to drink water when they were gardening. Each student received an exercise cube to use as an activity for each work day. The students tried watermelon infused water and made veggie salsa.

The last class taught youth to define “locally grown” and recognize locally grown food in Massachusetts. Students learned to identify the origins of fruits and vegetables. They also discussed the impact of food traveling thousands of miles to the market. Students made a yogurt parfait using strawberries, a locally grown fruit, and mangos, a fruit that travels.

tomatoes picked from the garden

Evaluation
Evaluation of the program showed that students connected what they learned in the classroom to their garden work. Students were asked, “What have you learned in the nutrition classes that have helped you in the garden?” Here are a few of the responses:
“We can eat every part of the plant.”
“How to add food we grow here into recipes we can eat.”
The UMASS Nutrition Education Program will continue the partnership for the next growing season.

SNAP-Ed Evaluation Framework Indicators
ST 7 – Organizational Partnership
MT 5 – Nutrition Supports

For more information contact Kathy Cunningham 413-406-6456 .