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Child Wellness Initiative stresses veggies and fruits in diets

Source: NEWSPRESS.COM | January 18, 2021

Students for Eco-Education and Agriculture is launching its free Santa Barbara County Child Wellness Initiative.

The program is designed to educate and inspire children to eat healthy by adding locally grown Santa Barbara County fruits and vegetables to their diet.

Third-graders will learn about the nutrients and health benefits of Santa Barbara County specialty crops such as strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, lettuce and avocados.

A different crop is being highlighted each month during live, one-hour online presentations.

“We want to engage students in an interactive, fun way, as we know how hard it can be for young students to be away from their friends and teachers while learning remotely,” said Kathleen Knight, SEEAG Child Wellness Initiative educator and program developer. “Our program encourages kids to use their detective skills to learn about Santa Barbara County’s local agriculture, to engage in thoughtful discussions about healthy eating, and even gets students up and dancing with their classmates and teachers.”

Lessons and activities will teach students about the journey of food — from seed to harvest to local markets.

Students will be introduced to the “food rainbow,” made up of the different colors of fruit and vegetables. They will learn how each color benefits specific parts of the body.

They will also learn about the importance of exercise and staying active. Each student who participates will receive links to online activities for further learning.

SEEAG is hoping to provide in-person education when students return to school campuses. The nonprofit is in the process of fundraising for a Santa Barbara County Farm Fresh Mobile Classroom van, which brings SEEAG educators to schools for hands-on nutritional education and provides students with fresh produce from local farms.

SEEAG collaborated with a number of local agencies, businesses and growers to establish the Santa Barbara County Child Wellness Initiative. They include the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, Santa Barbara County Food Action Network, CenCal Health, SBCEO Children and Family Services Health Linkages Program, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, and the Edwin and Jeanne Woods Family Foundation.

Participating Santa Barbara County growers include Reiter Affiliated Companies, Babé Farms, Bonipak Produce Co., Driscoll’s, Innovative Produce, Mainstreet Produce, Plantel Nurseries and California Giant Berry Farms.

“It’s important to educate people on the nutritional value of food. Especially today, we need to stay as healthy as we can,” said George Adam, president of Innovative Produce. “We also need to teach people how to easily prepare food in ways so it tastes good to encourage good eating habits. Kids are often the bridge to their parents. If we reach them with the healthy eating message, the whole family will be impacted.”

The sixth-generation produce company in Santa Maria grows all types of vegetables from romaine lettuce to cauliflower and broccoli.

The Ventura County Child Wellness Initiative was launched by SEEAG in 2017. The nonprofit has been putting on youth agriculture appreciation and healthy food programs in Southern and Central California since its founding in 2008.

More than 60 schools and 8,000 students participate each year.

A survey of kids who completed the wellness program found that 93% wanted to eat healthier.

“We see the impact that the Child Wellness Initiative has had on kids in Ventura County,” said Mary Maranville, SEEAG founder and CEO. “We plan on replicating the success in Santa Barbara County. Childhood obesity is a national crisis. We need to teach kids a healthier way to eat, including eating the food grown at farms nearby.”

Crestview Elementary School in Lompoc was the first school to sign up in Santa Barbara County.

“We’re so excited that we can offer all of our educational programs in both English and Spanish,” said Ms. Knight. “Language inclusivity is such an important aspect to not only connect with students as an educator, but also to help kids connect more deeply with their peers.

“We at SEEAG are looking forward to supporting the children, families and educators of Santa Barbara County through facilitating inclusive and diverse educational opportunities.”