A group of Reynoldsburg elementary school students hopes to fight childhood obesity one row at a time.

A group of Reynoldsburg elementary school students hopes to fight childhood obesity one row at a time.

One garden row, that is.

Students at Herbert Mills Elementary School planted tomatoes, peppers, herbs and other vegetables in a new "teaching garden" May 21. They were helped by volunteers from the school, the community, the American Heart Association and ScottsMiracle-Gro.

"We saw the garden as a great opportunity to engage kids in learning about healthy eating, diet and nutrition," Principal Teresa Smith said. "The school district has strong health, fitness and wellness goals. The teaching garden will help students see where fruits and vegetables come from and how to add them to a healthy diet."

Brianne Harmon from the American Heart Association said the teaching garden is a part of the association's "My Heart. My Life." program.

"We know that childhood obesity is an epidemic in this country," she said. "These gardens are an excellent way to help students learn to make healthy choices. Heart disease and stroke are 80-percent preventable when people are making the right healthy choices.

"The program helps students plant the seeds to work toward a lifetime of prevention," she said.

The day began with volunteers helping third- and fourth-graders build raised beds and fill them with soil.

"We typically provide six to eight raised beds," Harmon said. "We also provide a printed curriculum, 10 raised-bed planters, seeds, soil, hose, water nozzle, rakes, buckets, hand trowels, hand cultivators, gardening gloves and a pruner."

After a lunch break, students in kindergarten, first and second grade moved through planting stations to plant the vegetables.

Harmon said the program is funded by donations to the American Heart Association from ScottsMiracle-Gro.

"When we select schools for these gardens, we look for schools that have a significant number of students on free and reduced-price lunch programs," she said. "Research shows that exposing children to growing vegetables in this real-life garden laboratory gives them a better understanding of good eating habits, because they are invested in growing the vegetables."

Smith said although the last day of school was May 29, the garden will be cared for over the summer by volunteers.

"We have staff members, parents and students who volunteered to come in and do some watering and taking care of the garden," she said.

"When school starts again, our goal is to offer a farmers market of produce for families and the community," she said. "We also want to make some salsa to share with our kids and will use the garden to improve nutrition education for our kids."

Harmon said significant research shows that garden-based nutritional intervention programs may increase the amount of fruits and vegetables youths and adults consume.

"In one study, adults with a household member who participated in a community garden consumed fruits and vegetables 1.4 more times per day than those who did not participate," she said. "And they were 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits and vegetables at least five times daily."

She said childhood obesity is an epidemic in the United States, with nearly one in three American children considered overweight or obese.

Smith said she plans on getting local businesses involved as partners for the teaching garden, to help fund the program in future years.

"We very much want to continue the teaching garden for our families and our students," she said.