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The HEAL Project Garden Program Promotes the Healing Powers of Fresh Food

Posted by on Mar 17, 2017 in Community, Wellness

In this article published in the March 2017 issue of Half Moon Bay Magazine, Sutter Health Plus is recognized as a donor of The HEAL Project. The HEAL Project provides health, environmental and agricultural education for underserved elementary school children.

A lush green oasis lies among the construction campus of Hatch Elementary School. It’s where the new HEAL garden takes root.

The old garden, once tucked away near the multipurpose baseball and soccer field, was destroyed as the bulldozers working on the school’s recent modernization project rolled in. Understandably, the inadvertent consequence of progress upset many parents and children who had worked so hard on the garden. After a generous donation from Sutter Health Plus, the HEAL Project was able to erect a bigger and better version of the garden, complete with raised garden beds and a pleasing pergola.

“I think they have taken a challenging situation with the construction and really turned it into an amazing garden space,” said James Ward, principal of Hatch Elementary School. “I’m so happy with how it turned out and with the hard work of the HEAL program. The kids love it.”

Ward also noted that the new garden rests upon space once utilized by the Coastside Children’s Program. The after-school program worked with the HEAL Project to transform what was once only asphalt into a garden of leafy green vegetables.

“It’s been a great partnership with CCP,” Ward said. This year, the HEAL Project is able to provide its Intensive Garden Program to 220 second- and third-grade students. HEAL Project instructor Kali Burke, also affectionately known as Miss K, offers hands-on learning about natural food and cooking. “All the second- and third-graders come through the program. It’s 26 weeks,” said Burke. “They start with me in second grade, halfway, so I’m actually starting with a new group of kids next week. The third-graders just graduated with me last week. Since they start with me in second grade and go into third grade, I get to watch them grow so much.”

Growing up on the coast, Burke had ample opportunities to get her hands dirty while soaking in the Northern California sunshine. “I always had a giant garden and  I was always outside exploring,” Burke remembered. “It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that most kids don’t have that kind of access.” She also had the benefit of a parent who understood the importance of good nutrition. Burke feels like it’s her honor to pass on what she learned to the next generation of eaters.

“My mom taught me from the time was very small to have a very healthy relationship with food,” said Burke. “I feel like this program is my way of passing that on to the next generation. One of my favorite, if not the favorite, part of this job is teaching kids where their food comes from.”

Her philosophy dovetails into another popular project that introduces hands-on gardening and healthy cooking lessons to hundreds of San Mateo County elementary school students.

“If they can plant it and take care of it and watch it grow and pick it, they will eat anything,” said Burke. “I have kids out here whose parents come to me and say, oh, my gosh, how did you get my kid to eat so and so?

“I can’t take the credit for that. It’s the kids being outside and experiencing it and watching it grow,” she continued. “And they’ll eat anything. That’s the coolest part for me. I come to work every day and feel so lucky because, not only am I teaching them, I’m learning with them.”