Changing Lives, One Garden at a Time

jacoblund/ iStock / Getty Images Plus
jacoblund/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

When I was working as a clinical dietitian years ago, my husband was just beginning his surgical residency. We would often meet up on the surgical unit where I would be writing out my nutrition assessments, and before long he would be called off to attend to some life-threatening emergency. I have to admit I often found myself feeling insignificant —that I really wasn’t making that much of an impact in people’s lives.

Flash forward nearly 20 years and two kids later. No longer a practicing clinical dietitian and distraught by the health and disease statistics in children, I’ve recently dedicated much of my time as a volunteer ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (JOFR), which aims to bring food education into communities and schools. Since beginning with JOFR, I’ve witnessed first-hand the significance that school wellness committees and garden programs have had in my community and in the lives of the children with whom I’ve worked.

Changing Lives, One Garden at a Time -

Children are, in a sense, a blank slate when it comes to food education.  They haven’t been jaded by failed attempts at dieting or misguided by the endless barrage of hyped-up media reports about nutrition. In the many years that I have spent teaching nutrition, I have found that children are the most impressionable. Their ears and eyes wide open, ready to digest and put into practice the information that’s been given to them. They are trusting, and they want to do what is right.

Recently, I stumbled across an article in Time magazine by chef Alice Waters, one of the most influential leaders in the movement to bring food education into schools. She reports that “by radically changing the way we think about feeding our children, we not only change the nutrition of individual children and the diet of all Americans in a generation, we also restore the health of the land — and the essential values of this country.” I was so blown away! In one sentence she had summed up the problem but also made the solution so incredibly tangible. We need to support our children with strong nutrition policies that not only discourage junk foods but also promote healthier food choices in the classrooms and at lunch and encourage physical activity. We need to bring back food education and cooking classes so when kids are grown, they have the skills they need to live a healthier life.

When I’m out in the garden teaching kids about real food, when we are digging in the dirt and talking about recipes that we’ll make with the foods we’ve grown — such as the recipe below, which used the school garden’s mixed lettuce greens — I honestly feel like this could be the moment that will change their lives forever. It certainly has changed my life. I’m making an impact, I’m saving a life, and it’s one of the greatest feelings ever!

Garden photos courtesy of Denise Jean Photography.

Warm Apricot Salad with Manchego & Figs

Recipe developed by Donna Castellano MS, RDN 

Serves 1-2

IngredientsChanging Lives, One Garden at a Time -
1 cup mixed lettuce greens
2 ripe apricots (sliced in half and pit removed)
4 large figs quartered
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 small block Manchego cheese (sliced thin into strips)
Sherry-Thyme Dressing (


  1. Heat grill to medium.
  2. Place apricots flesh side down on a grill and cook until grill marks appear on fruit. (You may want to lightly coat the fruit with a bit of olive oil to prevent it from sticking).
  3. In meantime, combine lettuce with figs and walnuts in a small bowl.
  4. Add in the grilled apricots. Toss salad together with dressing.
  5. Top with Manchego and serve.
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Donna Castellano
Donna Castellano, MS, RDN, is a wife, mother, registered dietitian, Jamie Oliver Food Revolution ambassador and real food blogger. Read her blog and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.