School Gardens

School gardens are great ways to generate attention to the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and make it rewarding at the same time!

KIDD - gardenPromote the establishment of school and community gardens

School gardens are living laboratories! A school garden can be created on a large scale in a vacant field or on a scale as small as planter boxes or oak barrels outside the classroom.

Gardens of all sizes can be integrated into the educational curriculum to teach children not only about plants, nature and the outdoors, but other subjects as well. Gardens can be used to teach students about history, economics, poetry and math, but are still primarily used for science studies.

School gardens provide an environment in which students can learn to work with teachers, parents and the community while growing plants and learning the relationship between people, plants, wildlife, the environment and nutrition.

The lessons that are taught at the garden site are limited only by one’s creativity.

The Harmony Union School District’s garden project provides produce to the school’s cafeteria and enhances its science curriculum. During the spring and Fall, each class works in the garden once a week with a garden coordinator. The garden is an outdoor classroom for studies in life science, biology, ecology and nutrition studies.

Students learn to view organic materials as a resource by making compost and managing the vermi-composting bins (composting with worms) that handle all applicable waste from the cafeteria. Students sow seeds, transplant seedlings, weed, water, harvest, and most fun of all, cook and eat the bounty from the garden. Some of the beds in the garden are used to provide the cafeteria with organic vegetables and herbs. There is also an effort to provide the salad bar with all of the salad greens needed in spring and fall.

Benefits of School Gardens

School gardens offer a dynamic opportunity to integrate every discipline, including science, social studies, math, reading, environmental studies, nutrition and health into the curriculum. School gardens may even help to improve standardized science test scores. California’s Life Lab Program is presently cultivating outdoor gardens in over sixty schools. On standardized science achievement tests given six months after participating in Life Lab, students scored “significantly greater gains,” compared to a comparable group involved in traditional science instruction.

Students develop confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of environmental stewardship through the hands-on learning experience of designing, cultivating and harvesting school gardens.

School garden projects nurture community spirit, common purpose and cultural appreciation by building bridges among students, school staff, families, local businesses and organizations. A garden is also a wonderful way to beautify and revitalize school grounds.

Participation and involvement in vegetable gardening may increase students’ fruit and vegetable consumption.

By incorporating composting into the school garden, students actively participate in maintaining the soil health of their garden and learn about nutrient cycles and ecology while also decreasing the amount of school waste sent to landfills.

How to Get Started Building A School Garden

School gardens are a special kind of learning center. Like libraries, they need responsible and knowledgeable people to do all the jobs necessary to maintain them as functional places in which children will learn. They should be seen as permanent additions and must be utilized year-round. Below is a framework to consider before starting your garden. Start small and expand in future seasons.

Form a Garden Committee. Coordinating a garden program is a team project. Different members of the committee need to be responsible for the garden work, finding funds and materials to support the garden, scheduling educational activities, finding and training volunteers, researching and disseminating information. Forming a garden committee from a pool of dedicated people with these skills will enhance the success of your program. Look for volunteers among the school staff, parents, and local residents including farmers, gardening supply outlets, nurseries etc.

Define the purpose and objectives of your garden. All teachers can utilize the garden as a learning aid. For some teachers it may reinforce natural science classroom studies. For others it may reinforce social studies. Some teachers may utilize the garden across all curriculum’s. Whatever your needs are, by addressing these issues, you will have a better understanding of the work involved in this stage.

Plan student gardening activities. It is important to look at the teacher’s lesson plans to determine when and what types of garden lessons are needed and how bed space will be allocated. The experiences and input from your garden committee will be helpful at this stage. This is your opportunity to schedule activities at specific times or assign certain tasks to your volunteers.

Define a year-round garden plan. After identifying what your garden will be like while school is in session, you need to think about your garden when school is not in session. The main questions are:

  • Who is going to keep this garden maintained until school starts?
  • How do you want the garden to look on the first day of school?
  • Will the garden be a summer school project?

A year-round garden use plan will account for any school break.

Choose a permanent garden site and design the garden. Your garden site should be in an area that receives plenty of sunlight, has good drainage and be in close proximity to water and electricity. The garden site should also have good accessibility to students, teachers, and volunteers and should include enough room for the garden, tool storage and student activity. Maintaining a large garden is time consuming, so be sure to consider the impact of the garden size before making your selection. Remember, you can also start small and increase the plot size as interest grows. A garden can be as small as a few planter boxes if that is more practical.

Build the garden according to plan. This is the big moment when teachers, volunteers, students and parents pool resources and build this permanent addition to the school.

Informational Resources

Fortunately, parents, teachers and administrators no longer have to grope in the dark to figure out how to set one up. There are tons of resources available and many of them are online.

Here’s the tip of the iceberg.

Kindergarden – An introduction to ways children can interact with plants and the outdoors. A school “gardens page” within this web site provides ideas for step-by-step guidelines for starting a school garden.

School Yard Habitats – is a program developed by the National Wildlife Federation. It offers educational workshop and resources.

The Center for Ecoliteracy offers several useful publications including Getting Started: A Guide for Creating School Gardens as Outdoor Classrooms and The Edible Schoolyard. Free excerpts are also available for some publications.

Edible School Yard has tons of lessons, resources, and ideas for your own school garden. These folks are the pioneers of the school garden approach.

Life Lab is an exciting hands-on science program with a “Living Laboratory” approach to elementary science education. Students utilize indoor and/or outdoor garden laboratories as the context for the meaningful study of earth, life and physical science. In a cooperative learning environment students experiment, investigate, collect, record and analyze data in order to discuss, problem solve and draw conclusions. All lessons are easily integrated in a most relevant manner into all areas of the curriculum.

The National Gardening Association has a helpful web site with a resource director, a school garden registry and information regarding the National Gardening Association’s Youth Garden Grant program.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, Water Quality and Waste Management web site provides information on school vermi-composting with several case studies using cafeteria food scraps.

Urban Agriculture Notes lists many educational garden resources. Published by City Farmer, Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture.

Slow Food USA Works through their Garden to Table Projects and Slow Food on Campus program to create meaningful relationships between youth and food. By placing emphasis on hands-on experiences, community interaction, and the pleasures of the table, Slow Food in Schools helps to strengthen the food communities of tomorrow by engaging youth today. Slow Food has the ultimate school garden guide – Free as a PDF with email address.

Education Outside promotes an inclusive, community-driven effort to create and maintain healthy, environmentally sustainable learning environments. They work in concert with neighborhoods and the local ecology to foster higher academic achievement, increased environmental stewardship, creativity and community building. Their website offers terrific resources for developing your own school garden as well as lesson plans for each season of the year.

The Ecology Center provides information, tools, technical assistance, referrals, political strategies, and models for sustainable living.

Sustainable Agriculture Education addresses these challenges by promoting the establishment of multifunctional agriculture at the metropolitan edge and by fostering inclusive urban-rural linkages.

The California Department of Education published Nutrition to Grow On (PDF), a curriculum and activity guide that links nutrition education to garden-based education for upper elementary level kids. Kids Cook Farm-Fresh Food, which features profiles of California family farmers and recipes suitable for the classroom.