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posted: 11/13/2017 1:00 AM

Helping children grow, one garden at a time

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  • Mondelez International Foundation's partnerships with nonprofits around the world have helped more than a million children lead healthier lives.

    Mondelez International Foundation's partnerships with nonprofits around the world have helped more than a million children lead healthier lives.



  • Children in Mexico show off vegetables they grew through a program sponsored by the Mondelez Internationa Foundation.

    Children in Mexico show off vegetables they grew through a program sponsored by the Mondelez Internationa Foundation.
    Photos courtesy Mondelez Internationa Foundation


A mother of four in Indonesia has improved her family's life because she learned how to grow vegetables and raise poultry and catfish in her yard.

A young girl in Mexico proudly shows off fresh fruits and vegetables in her lunchbox.

Students in an urban school in the United Kingdom stack old tires and fill them with soil so they can grow fresh produce.

These examples, and many more, illustrate the life-changing work done in programs sponsored around the word by the Mondelez International Foundation (MIF), based in Deerfield. With dedicated partners such as Save the Children and INMED Partnerships for Children, teachers, staff, parents and students, local government officials and many others, these programs have helped more than a million kids live healthier lives.

This public-private partnership model draws on unique social and cultural strengths, to tailor their work to each community's specific needs and to operate autonomously from the Foundation. And while each program runs in a customized way, many share a common thread: whether it's in urban England or rural China, gardens operate at the epicenter. We believe garden-based learning can favorably impact the children's academic performance and their fruit and vegetable consumption, enhancing their attitudes toward healthy foods and dietary behaviors.

According to Yale University professor of Epidemiology & Public Health Rafael Perez-Escamilla, a Mondelez International consultant, gardening impacts youth in four powerful ways.

Understanding the link between soil, plants and healthy diets: In Birmingham, UK, the Foundation-supported program, "Health for Life", created more than 100 school gardens, each cleverly adapted to urban environments. Local innovations include growing potatoes and carrots on roof gardens in large planters -- some in stacked tires filled with soil and compost. In China, one school principal says tending their own vegetables helps students learn more about nutrients and the growth process of various plants.

Empowering children to learn new skills: In Brazil, 500,000 students in over 1,000 schools help run gardens as businesses. Besides getting exercise and learning basic agricultural skills, they gain a sense of personal responsibility. In India, the principal of Wadala Sewri School calls gardening "a brilliant way of teaching children about the importance of good nutrition and appreciating the hard work that is required for putting food on our table."

Teaching children how their culture and history are rooted in nature and cuisine: In Mexico, workshops include "Ancestral Eating", where children identify the historic origin of foods that make up their current diet. A "Foods from My Country" session teaches the role and importance of locally-grown and -cultivated foods.

Reinforcing the importance of environmental sustainability: In South Africa, children learn to grow and raise food with limited water through methods like aquaponics (where aquaculture and hydroponics meet).

But it does not stop at the garden. In every nation, it is essential that students carry home lessons learned in school to create a "multiplier effect" and reinforce sound dietary practices. During Dr. Perez-Escamilla's recent Mexico visit, a young girl told him she had asked her mother to pack fresh fruit and vegetables in her lunch box and proudly gave him a peek inside. She told him that, every week, she spent time engaging in nutrition activities like gardening with her teachers. Says Dr. Perz-Escamilla, "I loved that she was sharing these lessons with her mother. We can start to impact the health and nutrition of children worldwide when we have the right model in place."

Yang Shuqiao, the principal of the Chinese pilot school, says, "The students are paying more attention to nutrition in daily diet and always talking about nutrition during daily conversations. Moreover, the students even bring home their nutrition and health concepts, making a positive influence on communities and expanding the influence of the program."

These programs can have even greater impact on families. Indonesian mother Margarita (Rita) Manes was unable to complete high school because of her family's poverty. Through her program training, not only is her family getting fresh produce and protein but it's also supporting them financially. She says: "Production of those vegetables and chicken is so good that I can sell some to the market and it has improved our economic condition while fulfilling the basic needs of my family. I am sure the result of this activity will help me to provide enough money to pay for my children's school fees."

• Sarah DeLea is president of the Mondelez International Foundation and senior director of global well-being and community involvement for Mondelez International, based in Deerfield. For more information, visit