HEAL Project starts from roots

Youth learn benefit of sustainable farming

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Educators and parents say participation in HEAL programs gives Coastside kids an appreciation for nature and the area's agriculture roots. Kyle Ludowitz / Review

On a foggy day at the San Mateo County educational farm, perched on the northwest border of El Granada and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, several kids roamed through the rows of broccoli, kale and lettuce, happy and excited to be picking food from the dirt.

The young people were part of a summer camp, one of six weeklong camps hosted by the HEAL Project, a local farm-based education program teaching elementary school students about healthy food and where it comes from, as well as how to grow healthy food themselves and why it’s important to sustainable farming. 

HEAL, an acronym standing for Health, Environment, Agriculture and Learning, offers several farming-oriented programs from kindergarten through 12th grade, including seasonal field trips. In the summer, HEAL hosts six camps from June to August, with themes ranging from “Nature Magic” to “Farmer Science,” and 20 kids attend per session. 

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Amelia Shang weaves plants together for an art project at the HEAL nature camp. Kyle Ludowitz / Review

Naomi Stern, the program manager, said this is the first year the camps have sold out in the seven years they have been offered. 

Each week, kids are able to plant vegetables, trim flowers and eat strawberries, blackberries, onions and more. 

On spring field trips, they plant pumpkin seeds, then return to pick them in the fall. 

According to the nonprofit’s 2017-18 annual report, it served more than 2,000 students last year, and 91 percent of parents said their child eats more fruits and vegetables since participating in the camp. HEAL works in accord with California’s Next Generation Science Standards, a statewide effort to increase science and math literacy. Kids learn everything from the farm’s carbon reduction tactics to the formation of composted soil. 

Executive Director Amy Bono sees the project including more of the local community in the future. The farm offers a community farm day every second Saturday of the month, and participants can sign up online beforehand. 

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Naia Rothman picks lavender for a project during the HEAL nature camp. This year, the camps were sold out. Kyle Ludowitz / Review

Since its inception 15 years ago, the nonprofit has sought a variety of ways to connect youth to the agricultural process. HEAL hosted a 26-week Intensive Garden Program for second- and third-graders at Hatch and Farallone View Elementary schools. Graduates from that program can help out at the nonprofit’s booth at the farmers market. HEAL will sometimes select program graduates for internships on a case-by-case basis, either working the farm or teaching camps. 

At the end of each week, parents can visit the farm to see firsthand what their kids have learned. 

“The kids get to show them around the farm, and they really get to own it,” Bono said. They show them how to harvest appropriately, they get to cut flowers for their family. So, we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from the parents.” 

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