As many as 6.5 million American children live in neighborhoods where fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In these food deserts, as they’re known, a greasy slice of pizza is easier found than a nutritious salad. To help improve the situation, one nonprofit is setting out to help improve such kids’ eating habits by planting organic fruit orchards around low-income public schools.
A month ago, Common Vision launched the “Grow Fruit Grow Power” crowdfunding campaign to raise money for its plan to grow fruit trees in 1,000 schools across California by 2025. Once planted, the orchards will provide students with access to fresh fruit that’s free for the picking. So far, the organization has raised $58,438 toward its goal of $60,000, with five days remaining. Some of the money will go toward developing agricultural-focused curricula and activities for students, such as building outdoor kitchens in the orchards.
By putting the orchards on public school campuses, Common Vision is hoping to encourage students to make healthy choices that will benefit their health and their performance in school. There are 12.7 million obese children and adolescents living in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At nearly 12 percent, the national rate is troubling—but it climbs to more than 14 percent when looking at families with income at or below the poverty line.
“The orchards don’t stop at bearing tons of fresh fruit,” the narrator of the video says. “They are living classrooms teeming with educational opportunities where kids learn about environmental science, climate change, nutrition, and teamwork.”
The lack of nutritious food options in public schools has been a nationwide concern in recent years. In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act, which implemented nutritional standards for foods sold and provided in public school cafeterias, limiting portion size, increasing servings of whole grains, and cutting back on sugar, fat, and sodium.
The healthier standards have not been an unqualified success. A recent study showed that while students were selecting more fruits and vegetables on the lunch line, they were throwing away more and consuming less than before the new standards, which require every student to take a serving of veggies, were implemented. As studies on retail access and food deserts have found, simply providing healthier food doesn’t guarantee that people will eat it. Rather, educational outreach—and perhaps public school orchards—are needed too.