Hands-on agriculture program helps Trotwood students grow

TROTWOOD — Fifth graders at Westbrooke Village Elementary School are building skills in agriculture and nutrition thanks to a new curriculum through the Green Bronx Machine program.

Students are currently in week seven of the nine-week program, lead by STEM teacher Daniell Cossey. It allows students to take a hands-on approach to learn about plants, how to nourish and cultivate them, and how to prepare them for meals.

“We have a giant tower in our room growing a variety of things, including tomatoes, zucchinis, sweet peppers, basil, two different types of lettuce, and arugula,” Cossey said. “The curricula is laid out so that each week, there’s a math lesson, a reading lesson, a science lesson, and some extra-curricular about different types of plants, so we choose what fits in.”

Green Bronx Machine, created by Bronx, N.Y., teacher Stephen Ritz, offers a learning program for teachers that centers on the process of growing vegetables while incorporating real-world lessons in core school subjects.

“We are a project-based, whole-school immersion program that aligns the art and science of growing vegetables indoors to key school performance indicators and happy, healthy children, addressing the social determinants of health,” Ritz said. “Simply put, at Green Bronx Machine, we grow vegetables, our vegetables grow students, our students grow schools, and our schools grow happy, healthy communities.”

The goal, Ritz said, is to encourage students to engage in the education process, as well as teach them the importance of healthy eating and how it correlates to every aspect of a person’s wellbeing.

The Trotwood-Madison school district is implementing the GBM curriculum for Westbrooke fifth graders at no cost thanks to a grant partnership between GBM and Quest Diagnostics Foundation of New Jersey.

“Quest Foundation, in conjunction with Quest for Health Equity, committed over $100 million in 2020 to help reduce healthcare inequities in underserved communities, which were apparent in the midst of the pandemic,” said Quest’s Stacey Ingram. “The collaboration with GBM — ‘cultivating health equity,’ as we like to call it — meets the needs of youth and communities nationally. We’re proud to bring this program to Trotwood-Madison school district to empower these students to learn and grow nutritious food.”

The GBM program’s introduction at Westbrooke is also a result of efforts by Mayor Mary McDonald to highlight the city’s food insecurity. As part of the 2021 Leadership Ohio program, McDonald worked on food insecurity issues with other leaders around the state.

In recent years, Trotwood residents have lost access to multiple grocery and food options, with the most recent hit being the closure of Dollar General at 5118 Salem Ave. earlier this year. Many Trotwood residents travel to stores in surrounding cities, but this effectively leaves those without means of transportation in a food desert.

“Every student, no matter who they are or where they are from, deserves access to healthy food,” McDonald said. “Trotwood-Madison City School District students are benefiting from hands-on agriculture education and collaboration that will have lasting impacts on the health and wellness of our community for years to come.”

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