Fighting Obesity in Schools By Changing Eating Habits of Students

Final Report for CS12-087

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2012: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Robert Behr
Ashley Ridge High School
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Project Information


The goal of my research is to change the eating habits of the 20,000 students in our school system by starting gardens at all 22 schools in my school district where kids plant the vegetables, grow the plants, harvest the produce and have the cafeteria cook the vegetables for the students to eat.


The problem that I saw at my high school was kids over weight to the point of being obese.  The recruiters who come to our school told me that 75% of the recruits trying to enter the armed service had to lose weight before they could sign up.   The vending machines were chalk full of sugar and fat and the kids eating habits were horrible. 

The literature that I used to back up my theory concludes that:

  • 18% of K-12 students are overweight.
  • 75% of high school recruits trying to enter the armed services are overweight.
  • Vending machines in schools are full of sugar, fat, and starch.

The literature review statistics came from:

              The Surgeon General’s office

              The Trust for America’s Health (TFAH);

              U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

              Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The literature Cited for publishing our school’s progress in building gardens:

              South Carolina Farmer Magazine, The Magazine of the South Carolina Farm Bureau Federation, Fall 2012.  Issue # 3, Features: Seeds For Thought, By Katie McElveen, “An Extraordinary Garden Becomes a Perfect School Project For Students of Every Level.

Making It Grow, Sponsored by Clemson University, It is a Public Television show that is viewed every Tuesday at 7:00pm on SCETV.

The Summerville, SC Newspaper; The Journal Scene; “From Seed to School Lunch…Kids Eating Healthy and Loving It”.  May 31, 2013. By A.M. Sheehan.

The Charleston and Berkely County teachers created a text book for school gardening that will be published next month.  Amy Dabbs, Clemson extension agent will be the lead to help obtain the book for me.


Project Objectives:


  1. Objectives/Performance Targets:

1. Obtain funding to provide materials necessary to implement a new garden. Insure the five schools in my district that recieved $5,000 grants from DHEC are succesful in building and maintaing a school garden.  The materials needed for each garden include:

  1. Cypress wood to construct raised bed garden boxes. 5’ long x 4’ wide and 8” tall. Two boxes are stacked on top of one another to create a 16” high raised bed.

  2. Compost and soil to go into each bed.

  3. Bags to hold the compost

  4. Irrigation system to supply water to each raised bed.

  5. Fertilizer to place in each bed.

  6. Water keys to turn on and off the spigot

  7. Steel rakes

  8. Garden trowels

  9. Gloves

  10. Seed

  11. Live plants

  12. Cover crop

  13. Insecticide for ants and bugs all organic

  14. High tunnel at designated schools

  15. Grow lights

  16. Trays and 72 count seed cell packs

  17. Six week education class on school gardening taught by Clemson University annually

  18. Teachers selected to take the class by Principals

  19. Multiple teachers must go through training at each school for sustainability

  20. Curriculum Development for the teachers

  21. Cafeteria Managers trained for food safety in preparing fresh produce; 200ppm bleach kill step in the GAP certification training on all produce brought in by students.

  22. Select schools to prepare for and register in the GAP training through the SCDA.

  23. Market each school to showcase the garden

  24. At Risk Students performing better in these classes than traditional classes

2. Collaberate with Clemson University vegetable research center to provide assistance in finding local farmers to mentor these five schools.

3. Coordinate with Dr. Karen Hall and Amy Dabbs, our local Master Gardener instructors, who will teach 22 selected teachers, one from each school, in the Master Gardener curriculum. The schools will pay the $300 tuition for each teacher to complete this training which will insure all schools have a "Buy In" to the garden program.

4. I will help guide each school through the GAP certification process since I have already completed this step.

The four objectives I originally stated are correct.  What changed was the funding source.  I stated that DHEC would provide the funds, $5,000, to build gardens at all 22 schools in my district.  This amount would not have achieved the goal because the cost to construct a garden is $1,500.00


Materials and methods:

 I was fortunate to meet Dr. Olivia Thompson, professor of Health Science at The College of Charleston, in Charleston, SC.  She is responsible for coordinating the Boeing funds to support the school health initiative and help me start the gardens in our area.  I received $24,000 in 2013, $30,000 in 2014, and $14,000 for 2015.  These funds allowed us to provide the following materials:

From Lowes:  16 bags of Mushroom Compost,   16 bags of Miracle Grow Soil,  2 steel rakes, 2 towels, 2 quick connect for a hose, four way water key, 100 feet of hose, 3- 5 gallon buckets with lids, blood meal 12-0-0, green sand, and colloidal phosphate, water wand,  1 pointed shovel, 1 square shovel.

We bought raised garden beds from Gronomics that included an irrigation system.  Four raised beds with dimension of 4’x4’ cost $400 for the complete kit with irrigation.  For Brown Field sites they make a manger raised bed above the ground where there is no contact with the ground soil.  I met with Lowe’s and placed SKEW numbers on all the materials so that products could be ordered at any store in the country.  Lowe’s placed all the materials on a pallet and shrink wrapped it and delivered to each school location.  This took some coordination between me giving Lowe’s the name, address and phone numbers of all 22 schools with a teacher contact and cell phone number to insure the delivery would be made to the correct location.  We tried to have the teachers take home the materials from a hands on workshop we conducted, but there was too much for a teacher to place in their car. 

I also coordinated with Bees Ferry Land Fill, Harvey Gibson, who manufactures compost for the landfill and sells it to the public.  We worked out a deal where Harvey would give the schools compost.  I paid Murray Sand, a local trucking company, to haul the compost to the schools.  Last year I was the single largest user of compost, 400 tons, in the tri-county area.  The compost was delivered to schools 15 yards at a time which allowed the schools to have a supply of compost for some time. 

Each teacher and garden coach attended a hands on workshop where I presented my PowerPoint presentation on the school garden at Ashley Ridge High School.  Amy Dabbs, Clemson Extension agent for Master Gardeners gave an overview of the on line class and how each school should set up its garden.  Zach Snipes, Clemson Extension agent for small fruit and vegetables, presented information on GAP and food safety, Jennifer Schellette, Clemson 4-H Extension agent presented the class with information about pollinators, worms, eggs and incubators, and starting a 4-H chapter at each school.  

Research results and discussion:

I was able to move from the five initial schools with $5,000 to 22 schools with $68,000 over three years.  The money came from Olivia Thompson with The College of Charleston through the Boeing Grant.  This money enabled Dorchester School District Two to be the first school district in the State of South Carolina to have a school garden at each of its schools.   The model that we established in our district was used to branch out to the adjacent school districts where we have trained 150 teachers at 84 schools.  Boeing was so impressed with the results of our model that they have agreed to fund a state wide garden project across South Carolina.  The model can then be used to establish gardens across the US at every school in the nation. 

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

  I asked Amy Dabbs, Clemson University Tri County Master Gardener Instructor and Extension Agent, to develop the curriculum for a garden class.  Amy developed a six week on line program specifically for teachers, that focused on creating and maintaining a school garden.  The course materials each teacher received were:

              Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza

              Home Vegetable Gardening in South Carolina, by Clemson Extension

              One Soil Sample Bag from the Agricultural Service Laboratory at Clemson University

              Starting a Community Garden, by Clemson Extension

              Vegetable Garden Insect Guide, by Clemson Cooperative Extension

              An Invitation to a Healthy Schoolyard, by The NRCS and Audubon Society

              Be A Friend To Pollinators, by the USDA and NRCS

              Packets of seeds

              One Magnifying glass


Amy next contacted the Master Gardeners in Dorchester County, where all 22 of our schools are located.  She put together a hands-on workshop for the Master Gardeners and gave out the following materials:

              School Garden Rules for adults outside of education

              Stages of Growth Development in Boys and Girls, From 4-H

              Working With Young People

Teaching Techniques

A signature page for each garden coach to sign stating that they have read and agree to the requirements for volunteering to serve as a School Garden Coach.

Criminal Back Ground Form from Clemson University

South Carolina 4-H Volunteer Application

Clemson University Volunteer Release

Sample Child Abuse Awareness/Prevention Policy

Tips for a Successful School Garden

Garden Activities for Children


We have included the Master Gardeners into the school garden program and titled them, “Garden Coaches”.    They go through the same hands on workshop as the teachers without the six weeks of online class.  When we have the workshop we bring the teachers and the Master Gardeners together at the same time so the teachers can interact with the Master Gardeners and eventually both can link up.  It is like speed dating for school gardens.  Over the past two years we have had very good success with this concept.  The benefit to the model is that there are Master Gardener programs in almost every State. 


The teachers that collaborated to writing the text book met in Charleston County for five days and spent over 10 hours per day together.  The text should be out this year and I will send SARE a copy. 

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The school gardens that I started two years ago are all growing and expanding at each school.  I was able to purchase four high tunnels with the Boeing grant money for one high school, two middle schools and one elementary school.   These schools have used the high tunnels to start seed early, grow vegetables through the winter, and continue to teach the kids in an outdoor lab environment.    I have given the schools the basic hard ware/materials to start a garden.  They must now be able to sustain the program each year by providing funding for seeds, potting mix, fertilizer.  The principals have seen the impact that the garden has on the school and agreed to support and expand the garden.  The key

Element in the plan is to have more than one adult trained at each school to allow the teachers to share in the responsibility of maintaining the program.  We encourage two teachers at each school to participate in the online class so there will never be a teaching void at the school.  

The community has responded to the school gardens in the following ways:

Limehouse Produce, a wholsale supplier of produce in the Charleston market, has supplied the schools with produce at the beginning of the projects so kids to see and taste different vegetables. 

Low Country Local First, a local farm training program, has agreed to support the schools in any way they can, from allowing schools to visit the incubator farms, to having local farmers volunteer to help schools.

Four H clubs have been started in most of the 84 schools we have trained


Potential Contributions

The long term benefits that will be derived from this project are many.  The kids growing and eating vegetables, knowing where their food comes from, the science and math associated with the school garden.  The development of the curriculum and writing a text book by the teachers involved with this project proves that the adults have bought in to the program.  The increase in vegetable sales at Ashley Ridge High School alone was 570% over six month from the previous year.  The most exciting potential this model poses is to expand the work across the State of South Carolina with the funding from Boeing. 

We are also starting 4-H chapters back in schools to stress the leadership training that 4-H offers to our students.  Bringing Ag Ed into the high schools will also be an important piece of this project.  Without the right people running the program the failure rate becomes higher.  Being able to sustain a school garden after the initial purchase of all the equipment will rely heavily upon the teachers in charge.  Principals have bought in for their schools and are willing to help fund the programs. 

Future Recommendations

I will be setting up a booth at the The South Carolina Association for School Boards in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Here superintendents and school board members will have their annual State conference.  I will have a raised bed garden set up to attract attention and hand out literature on what we have done in the three counties, ie. Educated 150 teachers and set up gardens at 84 schools.  Olivia Thompson for The College of Charleston representing Boeing, will be with me and can explain to the superintendents how they can contact her to allow our group to come in and train their teachers and set up gardens at their schools.   We will have all of the literature listed in this report on a table for the people to review.  We will give away four complete packets of educational material as door prizes to attract people and spread the news of what we have accomplished.  This has been a blast for me to start a project literally in my back yard and now have it moving across the State.  I thank the SARE grant for allowing me to have the money to begin this venture.  Without the SARE grant none of this would have happened.  Thank You!

Bobby Behr, AD Ashley Ridge High School.

Information Products

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.