Orchard Teaching Healthy Choices
Before putting something into their mouths to eat, John Wann asks kids to think about their grandmothers.
“If your grandmother does not know what is in it, don’t eat it,” he advises.
Wann knows that most of today’s youth do not know where food comes from unless it comes from the drive through window of a fast food restaurant or out of a package. He also knows eating that type of food leads to childhood obesity and diabetes. That is why it is his mission as the leader of the Orchard Community Learning Center, to teach children and their families about nutrition by teaching them how to grow their own food and how to cook it.
“We’ve been working on it four years,” he said. “Some days I am ‘oh my God, it’s too much work to ever make a difference.’ On other days it is “wow! This is really fun and we are making a difference.”
Wann was the principal of Valley View Elementary School before he retired in June 2011 after 22 years, but he never stopped teaching.
He found seven acres of land owned by Salt River Project that it was not using at the time and they gave him the OK to turn it into the project which is only a half mile from the school, he said.
Then he applied his experience as an educator to Orchard Community Learning Center.
“Valley View is a K through eight,” he said. “We did a lot of project-based learning so this is kind of the stuff we did at the school,” he said. “We do gardening, building and social justice. Even kindergarteners understand diabetes, animal welfare and hunger.”
“I see it as an approach to curriculum, part of a Trojan Horse curriculum and sneaking it into the back door of schools,” he said.
Wann said at first a few youngsters show up and did some gardening.
“They worked the ground, put up tomato stakes, planted and tended,” he said.
He said they got the family involved by teaching about health, food and nutrition and wellness. They were taught about childhood diabetes, obesity and physical fitness.
Then came the family garden plots, each about 15 by 20 feet where people come on Saturdays to work their plots, he said.
“We started with about 12 and we are up to 20,” he said.
Now they are able to raise funds for the garden by growing crops for the market.
Currently there are 40 gardeners and those numbers are rising, Wann said.
“This morning we harvested tomatoes, watermelon, chilies, onions, and zucchinis,” he said.
He said it will be less than a month when the season will be completely over, but there will be a summer camp for students in the fourth through ninth grades. It will concentrate on chickens and egg-laying and some hydroponics.
The camps will be held on mornings Wednesdays through Saturdays.
“I think it will turn into a regular science club as we go into the school year, for the little ones and high school freshmen,” he said.
There have also been classes by the Mountain Park Health Center and St. Luke’s Health Initiative.
St. Luke’s Health Initiatives is a supporter of our work and several other wellness initiatives in South Phoenix,” he said.
A partnership with Lassen School will continue in the fall with the second in a cooking and nutrition series we call “Healthy Roots.” The project draws on traditional and native recipes and ways of cooking, the influence of processed foods and marketing on wellness and food safety practices.”
“We are fortunate to be working with the Arizona Living Well Institute who supports a part-time AmeriCorps presence. Corps members Peter A Villareal, Pete Villareal (Peter’s dad), and Emily Torrez assist with orchard educational programs and community wellness outreach for senior and disabled citizens.”
“The OCLC is also working a demonstration aquaponics project under the guidance of South Phoenix native, Dr. George Brooks, Jr, Wann said.
“It’s a work in progress and it always will be which is how I view my work,” adding
“We are a 501 3c and we are all volunteers.”
The orchard is located at 911 W. Baseline Road and it can be reached at 602-529-6042 or visit www.orchardlearningcenter.org.