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Students get to know vegetables from the ground up

After a night of rain, the sun made an appearance just in time for Dr. Daniel Nadeau’s morning visit to the Rea Elementary School’s vegetable garden.

Nadeau, program director with the Mary and Dick Allen Diabetes Center at Hoag Hospital, arrived Friday to speak with Kileen Cowan’s kindergarten class about vegetables and nutrition. They met in the garden, directly outside Cowan’s classroom at the Costa Mesa school. Here the class had planted zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers and tomatoes.

“This connects us with the reality of where our food comes from,” Nadeau said. “By working on a garden, kids can become more interested in healthy eating. It’s a chance to break away from the burgers and fast food out there.”

When Nadeau asked the class, “Who here has a favorite vegetable?” hands shot up.

Shouts of “cucumber” and “corn” erupted from the students.

Other kindergartners couldn’t help but wander to the leaves of the zucchini plants. Most leaves were larger than their faces. Cowan’s class planted the vegetables in February.

Rea’s school nurse, Laura Garcia-Chandler, spearheaded many of the efforts to clean up the garden this school year, such as arranging volunteer groups to pull weeds, trim trees and lay mulch and soil.

Garcia-Chandler is also a pediatric nurse practitioner at the HOPE Clinic, a Costa Mesa center that has provided medical services to the Newport-Mesa Unified School District for more than 20 years. Under the HOPE Clinic’s partnership with Hoag Hospital, Garcia-Chandler and Nadeau were able to meet and discuss the needs of the garden.

“Hoag is a big supporter of the clinic and the community,” Garcia-Chandler said. “They said they were looking to support a vegetable garden, and we had one we were working on. It was a perfect match.”

This school year, the hospital’s diabetes center has provided funding for soil, seeds and gardening equipment.

Since the planting, Cowan has aimed to work plant studies into her classroom. The students have been learning about the life cycle of plants and pollination.

“They used to be scared when they saw bees in the garden,” Cowan said. “Now they’re happy to see the bees because they know they’re here to pollinate the flowers.”

The students have also learned lessons about nature by observing their garden.

“Some plants didn’t survive either because of insects or the weather was too harsh,” Garcia-Chandler said. “But that’s a natural part of life, and they’re learning that.”

With the garden, Cowan and Garcia-Chandler have noticed a greater student interest in vegetables. They plan to have the kindergartners taste and take home their vegetables once they are fully grown.