As part of TODAY's Shine a Light series, a campaign to support worthy causes throughout the year, Carson has chosen to shine a light on childhood hunger and healthy eating. He's teamed up with KidsGardening.org, a group that's on a mission to get a garden in every school across the country.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three kids in America is overweight or obese. At the same time, the USDA reports that one in four American kids live in "food insecure" homes, meaning they worry about getting enough to eat. Ironically, many of the kids with weight issues are the very ones who are "hungry," because processed foods are not the right foods.
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Meals for a lot of kids these days can be a smorgasbord of junk — technicolor drinks, strange crunchy things and sugary treats. They're easy to get, cheap, and at the root of a lot of hunger and obesity issues in America.
I want to help give kids better options and an understanding of what they need to make them grow. So I'm starting with a garden for three schools that share a campus in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York — P.S. 705, P.S. 22 and the Exceed Charter School.
"The children come in in the morning eating food that has them on a sugar high," Carlen Padmore, the principal of P.S. 22, told us. "By the time they start class — their first class, period one — they're bouncing off the walls... By period three, they look like they're ready to go to sleep."
The teachers in this inner city school call the neighborhood a "health food desert." Grocery stores are scarce, but poverty, food insecurity and obesity are all around.
When I talked to the kids and asked what their favorite foods were, they named burgers, meatballs, macaroni, ice cream, bacon, pancakes and cupcakes. And when I talked to students about their thoughts on vegetables, I didn't hear a lot of rave reviews.
"If there was a video game with junk food and vegetables, I would pick the junk food side," Isaiah Nesbitt told us, "and I would try to beat up the vegetables."
"I don't like okra," Nairobee Aime shared, "because one time I vomited from eating it."
"Vegetables are, like, for people lactose intolerant," said Kyla Pharr. "Not for cool people like me."
"Arugula?" asked Jeziah Kelly. "I think that is the name of a person in Egypt a long time ago."
Convincing kids to ditch all this for carrots and celery isn't going to be easy, but I asked the kids to give me a chance, and extended a challenge: By the end of the summer, they're going to think vegetables are awesome, and we're going to build a garden where they can learn how to plant veggies and take them home.
Their teachers are certainly excited about the idea.
"I see green, which is something that's hard to find here in Brooklyn," Sandra Beauvoir Soto, principal of P.S. 705, told us of what she visualizes in the space where the garden will go. Right now, she says, "It's all concrete. It's asphalt. It's rubber. It's hard. And to have something living, breathing, growing, alive, like the children that we serve, I think, is gonna be really powerful for them."
I was pretty proud of my pitch — that we're going to build the most beautiful garden ever — though I know it's a tough sell. Principal Palmore told me that when he was growing up in the South Bronx, a community garden was transformative for him, though it might take time for the kids to get used to the idea.
Sure enough, at first, the students' reactions were mixed. But they've decided to fake it 'til they make it, and I'm OK with that — I've got all summer to let this garden thing grow on them.