Saturday, September 8, 2012

Let's Get Gardening!

My Action Plan:

In America, unhealthy eating habits have lead to an obesity epidemic. More than one third of people in the United States are obese and numbers continue to rise. Many Americans underestimate the significance of obesity and believe that with diet and exercise the problem will be solved. This mentality, however, has lead Americans to put off dealing with their health until it is too late. The initial discomforts of obesity may seem unpleasant, but the long-term health problems can be very serious. People who are obese are at high risk for cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and joint disorders. These conditions are irreversible and plague sufferers for the rest of their lives.

To effectively address the issue of obesity and promote social change, it is essential to focus on the root of the problem. This is the youth of America. Each year, more young people develop health problems directly related to poor nutrition. A federal survey had found that the proportion of young people ages 12 to 19 with diabetes or pre-diabetes increased from 9 percent in 1999 to 23 percent in 2008. Furthermore, studies show that obese adolescents have an 80 percent chance of being obese as an adult.  If young people become more aware of the benefits of healthy eating, they will be able to turn their eating habits around before it is too late. Although Americans are slowly becoming more aware of this massive problem, steps taken to address the issue are negligible compared to the tremendous impact obesity has on American society.

The goal of my Action Plan is to educate students about the importance of healthy eating by starting and maintaining a community garden at my school and donating the harvest to a local homeless shelter. Recently, I have become more aware that students at my school, El Cerrito High, don’t know where their food is coming from, or what it’s made out of. They eat whatever meal is both the biggest and cheapest. This is almost always unhealthy, processed food. Eating processed food not only contributes to obesity, but also to a lack of energy and motivation. If students become more aware of the negative impact of junk food and choose to change their diet, they will not only become physically healthier, but also become more mentally engaged in the classroom.

In order to successfully implement and maintain a community garden at El Cerrito High I will need to start a club. In order to start a club, I will need a teacher sponsor as well as support from the Principal to borrow land. I recently emailed my principal who pledged his support and provided me with the name of a teacher who may be interested in sponsoring me. 

In the middle of November, there is a club fair at my school. This fair is designed to give students the opportunity to learn about and sign up for clubs. At this fair, I will set up a booth and provide students with information relating to the problem of obesity in America and the necessity of a healthy diet. Hopefully students will become more aware of the topic and want to make a difference.  

After the initiation of the club, I will need to fundraise. Due to limited recourses in my school district, it is unrealistic for me to expect any monetary support directly from my school. There is a parent run organization, however, called The Student Activity Fund that provides funding to worthy organizations within my school’s community. Hopefully, this fund will provide me with the money I need to start building the garden. It is often quite hard to get money from The Student Activity Fund, especially if the money does not go directly to academic related areas, so I cannot expect more than basic support. After the initial funding, hopefully I will gain enough momentum to start fundraising in other ways. One strategy is to create a cookbook with healthy recipes and sell them to the outer community. I will also encourage students and members of the community to donate supplies by creating a drop-box. Ideally, this box will be located in the classroom of my teacher sponsor. After building the garden and acquiring necessary supplies, the garden will cost little to maintain and people power will become the main focus.

In order to maintain the garden, I will need a lot of dedicated students. Several of my friends have already pledged their support and I know I can count on them to consistently help out.  In order to graduate from El Cerrito High, students must complete at least 20 hours of community service work.  Students who volunteer in the garden will be able to fulfill their service hours while also gaining an understanding of the importance of healthy eating.

Starting the garden will take a lot of time, so I am also planning to create work days on weekends where students can fulfill several of their community service hours at once. Community members and parents will also be invited to participate. To spread the word of these events, I will create both a Facebook group and contact people through the El Cerrito High News email.

Once the garden is established, members of the club will need to focus on taking care of the plants. In order to do this effectively, students will need to carry out specific tasks such as watering and weeding. I will create a spreadsheet on Google Docs that specifies what needs to be done and for how long. Here, members of the club can sign up for a specific task. This spreadsheet system will also enable me to accurately monitor the community service hours completed by specific students. In order to ensure members of the club actually complete the task they sign up for, each student will need to get a key from the teacher sponsor before entering the garden and return the key after completing their task. With this system in place, I am confident that the garden will thrive.

In order to create a successful garden, it is essential that I create a timeline for planting. I live in a relatively mild climate, so it probably won’t be too hard to find plants to grow year-round, but I still need to make sure that I plant the right plants at the right time. By early December, the club itself will be established. For the next month we will focus on fundraising and setting dates for building the garden. By March the garden will be complete and students can focus on planting. It is unrealistic for me to expect students to come during the summer to maintain the garden, so I am hoping to finish harvesting the majority of plants by the middle of June.

I will consider my Action Plan a success if I am able to gain enough members to successfully maintain a garden before I graduate from high school. This gives me two years to fulfill my goal. During this time, I hope to empress upon members of the club, as well as others in my school, the importance of healthy eating and the significance of the obesity epidemic in America.