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Astoria Park Elementary goes green for healthy living

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Astoria Park Elementary School

By Lynn Hatter

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Tallahassee, FL – Following in a state and national push for better nutrition Tallahassee's Astoria Park Elementary School is going a step further. Instead of telling students and their families to eat better, the school is embarking on a project to SHOW them how to do it. Lynn Hatter took a trip to the school and prepared this report.

In the back of Astoria Park Elementary School, in a space just big enough for a school bus, a small group of teachers, grounds keepers and volunteers are busy assembling garden beds. On a table in a corner sits a brown bag filled with leafy greens, and tomatoes.

"This is stuff from the garden we did during Earth Day we planted on Earth Day and we had to pull it up. We had some greens, some basil and tomatoes. It's still giving us tomatoes, we don't know why but we had to pull them up to re-do the beds. So that's the end-product of an April Earth Day planning."

Ms. Merlin JnBaptiste (Ms. JB) is the program specialist at Astoria Park. The school began planting veggie gardens back in April and its now preparing to start a new season featuring winter vegetables. The school is also building three additional garden beds where students can plant their seeds and watch them grow.
Stefanie Duda is with the UF-IFAS extension project and Four-H. She says the project is a way to show students what living and eating healthy is all about.

"You can get your sixty minutes of daily recommended exercise doing fun, active things. Gardening is active. We know there's an obesity epidemic going on but we don't want to continually preach that to children. We just want to help them understand that living healthier will help them feel and be a better person."

Both state and federal officials are pushing awareness about childhood obesity. First Lady Michelle Obama has her "Let's Move" campaign and the Florida Department of Agriculture recently obtained permission from the federal government to operate the state's school lunch program. Commissioner Adam Putnam says the goal of the transfer to his department will help get more fresh fruits and vegetables in front of children. At Tallahassee's Astoria Park Elementary, the health programs also extend to parents, where Jean-Baptiste says eating and living healthy has become a family effort.

"We actually have students in our after-school program who are policing their parents. They're like, mom that's not good why are you eating that?" And we have parents who stop me and are like, "can you help me? My child is telling me I'm not doing this right. And I'm going to start exercising, you know, what do you do what are you guys doing?"

And for those parents, Ms. Jean-Baptiste says the school does provide an alternative to gardening.

"We actually started a Zumba class here. It's available for the parents to get. And its Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 5:30-6."

Zumba classes and veggie gardens give students and parents at Astoria Park a way to live better and eat better while having some fun doing it.