School Gardens: Here We Grow - Action for Healthy Kids
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School Gardens: Here We Grow

School gardens are growing in popularity (pun intended), and for several good reasons. They’re easy to start. They give kids and adults hands-on learning about real, healthy food and good nutrition. They can be integrated into other subjects such as math, science, health and social studies. They teach kids environmental stewardship. They bring the community together. And, last but certainly not least, kids tend to be more willing to try new foods when they grow those foods themselves.

kids learning about plants at school garden

A school garden takes some planning, but the effort is worth the reward! Use these easy steps to get started:

Grow your team. Tending and caring for a garden isn’t a job for one. Brainstorm with your School Health Team, school staff, parents and community members to draw up a vision and seek support for the garden.

  • Get the buy-in of school administrators by highlighting the crossover with various academic subjects, along with nutrition benefits.
  • Recruit a small group of adult volunteers to oversee the gardening activities of students.
  • Let students take part in planning the garden and identifying what must be done to establish and maintain it, such as digging, weeding, watering and harvesting.
  • Make sure you have a plan for who will take care of the garden while school is out for the summer. You don’t want it to become overgrown and an eyesore by the time school starts up again!

Sow a plan. Once your team is in place, turn the vision into life. Think about your space and the type(s) of gardens that would work best. Consider ways it can be used throughout the community, develop a plan for sustainability, and think outside the box for ways to integrate into the classroom.

  • Identify a location for the garden. If there isn’t space available or if you need to take a start-small approach, consider a different type of garden. They’re easy to use, portable for summer months, and require very little maintenance (no weeding—woo-hoo!).
    • Container Garden: Container gardens are enclosed receptacles, often pots or recycled materials like a wooden barrel or pallet.
      • Pots and assorted containers are great for lettuce and assorted greens, peppers, and summer squash.
      • Hanging baskets are great for berries, herbs and cherry tomatoes.
      • Windowsill gardens are smaller versions of container gardens and can be successful in growing edible sprouts, herbs and baby lettuces.
    • Vertical Garden: Vertical gardens grow up rather than out which make them ideal for small spaces.
      • Build a trellis garden out of recycled materials or contact your local home improvement or lumber store to see if they have any scrap trellis pieces. Climbing plants such as chayote, beans, grapes and kiwi are best for these gardens.
      • Hydroponic tower gardens circulate water through a base system and up to the various plants. These allow plants to be grown year-round and do well with leafy greens, spinach and herbs.
  • Budget for resources (seeds and equipment). School gardens are very attractive to donors, so be sure to look for funding opportunities at local home improvement stores, your PTA/PTO and organizations like National Gardening Association and Action for Healthy Kids.

Harvest fun and learning. Celebrate your new garden by expanding the garden outside of nutrition education, and bring together students, staff, families and other members of the community.

  • If you can, work with lunchroom staff to incorporate the yummy garden bounty into school meals. If your district or state has a policy against this, there are plenty of other ways to get kids consuming the fruits of their labor, like taste tests and after-school clubs.
    • Garden to Cafeteria programs and Youth Farmers’ Markets make school gardening even more educational and sustainable. To help lighten your load, look for local resources in your area, such as a Slow Food chapter, an urban gardening or farming association, or a university cooperative extension service.
  • Strive to ensure that students are engaging with the garden at least twice a month, either by being out in the garden or through garden-based lesson plans.
    • Want to tie it into other subjects? Take a look at some of these ideas.
      • Math: Practice estimation by estimating the number of crops produced or subtraction by comparing the actual numbers yielded.
      • Science: Experiment with soil and discuss the properties and its importance in the plant cycle. Hypothesize on what would happen if one part of this cycle was removed – how would the outcomes be different?
      • Social Studies: Explore agricultural geography by having students research where their crops grow best and draw them on a map (ex. peaches in Georgia or bananas in Ecuador) or learn more about Japanese Zen gardens and create one of your own.
      • Art: Paint the scrap ends of produce harvested from the garden (celery stalks, potato ends, lettuce heads, etc.) and practice print making or hollow out gourds to create musical instruments.
  • Promote, promote, promote! Take advantage of PTA meetings, staff meetings, back-to-school packets, morning announcements and flyers and tie in events for the whole community.
    • Create a neighborhood produce stand and package weekend bags once a month for students to take home to their families or donate to a local charity.
    • Host a healthy fundraiser with a salad bar stand, healthy cooking competition or garden tool drive.
    • Organize ‘garden days’ on the weekends where community members can volunteer to help tend the garden and children garden alongside their families.

Whatever the vision, no matter how large or small, creating a school garden is a step towards the healthier side. In fact, studies show that students who garden through childhood and 8th grade consume 25% more fruits and vegetables! Explore this hands on approach to nutrition education and begin planting the seeds to a healthier future today.

Want to get your school garden on? See how parent Ana Villacorta put the green in Verde Elementary in Florida.

Categories: School Environment