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Agriculture Complements Childhood Nutrition

The first crop from the school’s farm was very impressive and imagine from an urban school. At first, parents and teachers doubted that there would be enough space, yet the Principal found a small unpaved section to the side of the kitchen to start the garden. This lush crop of ‘greens’ would now enhance the breakfast programme and ‘break the monotony’ of porridge every morning. Callaloo and other dark green leafy vegetables provide well-needed nutrients – calcium, iron and vitamin A – that children so often lack. Prepared with the saltfish that a community member donated, this would add to the protein intake, enhancing the absorption of the iron from the callaloo. Many children in Jamaica are still suffering from iron deficiency anaemia. Many of our’ breakfast foods’ are the suppliers of iron that tend to go missing from other meals.

School Farms in the Curriculum

The children were pleased with this new addition to the breakfast offerings, and they also enjoyed working on the school farm. School farms are not only a source of food for school meals, but children will learn first-hand the nutritional value of the foods produced, and they get exposure to the profession of agriculture. The country depends on agriculture for economic growth. Yet, our young people are not receiving the appropriate exposure to see agriculture as a career option. While school farms in urban areas may be small, rural schools may have more space and have ventured into larger farms, including poultry and eggs. These not only provide the feeding needs of the school children but can be sold in the community as a source of income for foods that are not grown.

Food and nutrition messages such as “eat more fruits and vegetables” are supported by school-based farms. One study in the USA corroborated the belief that adolescents who participated in a farm-based nutrition intervention increased their servings of fruits and vegetables more than students who did not. These foods significantly increase the intake of vitamins A, C and also dietary fibre intake. It is now accepted that the antioxidants of fruits and vegetables also protect against cancer and other chronic disorders. School farming programmes are practical tools for nutrition education and child development in a broader sense than realized. These activities and school feeding provide helpful learning experiences with long-lasting impacts on children’s minds. These include nutrition and health, food habits, social development, etiquette, pedagogical effectiveness, educational development, food production and food management.

Agricultural and Manufacturing Development

School feeding programmes have also served the purpose of fuelling agricultural growth. In the USA, a large proportion of national agricultural produce is used in school meals. School feeding has been described as a built-in market for farm commodities. Many companies are supported by school feeding as produce must be processed and marketed to meet the demands of school feeding. Some schools have even ventured into food processing cottage industries using the excess farm products from their communities, thus enhancing rural development. Therefore, our agriculture development strategy should consider developing school farms as enterprises and making the necessary links with school feeding and child nutrition.

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