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School gardens: Kids learn a locavore lifestyle

School gardens, springing up all over the country, teach good eating habits for kids.

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School gardens are springing up all over the country, including this plot at the Moss Haven Elementary School in Dallas, Tx.

LM Otero/AP

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DALLAS (AP) — Gathered in the large garden behind an elementary school here, a group of kindergartners watched as their teacher snipped some basil, let them smell the leaves, and then did the same with oregano.

"We do a lot of smelling out there. Looking. Digging," the teacher, LeaAnne Pillers, said. She took her class to the garden two or three times a week after it opened last spring at Moss Haven Elementary, and she's excited to get her new group out among the plants when school starts next week.

One of their first lessons: learning the five senses. "We'll be able to do a lot with 'What does it look like? What does it feel like?' Some of it we'll even be able to taste," Pillers said.

Moss Haven's garden is among a growing number being planted in schoolyards across the country. It is part of an American Heart Association initiative to get kids to eat healthier. Along with nutrition, school gardens also can teach lessons about the environment and science, teamwork, math skills and leadership, proponents say.

Pillers' kindergartners taste-tested vegetables, measured garden plots and investigated what foods caterpillars like.

"The main thing that I really like is citizenship — that everybody is taking responsibility," said Ashley Rich, who works with teachers to develop curriculum at the school. Over the summer, she added, families from the school have been taking turns each week caring for the garden.

She welcomes the chance for hands-on learning, and thinks students are getting the nutritional message.

"If the children are involved in growing the vegetables, then they are interested in eating them," said Judith Collier-Reid, national consultant for the Dallas-based American Heart Association's Teaching Gardens program, which has handed grants to about 160 gardens since kicking off last year. Its mission is to help curb the nation's childhood obesity epidemic.

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