The school nutrition program can be the catalyst for establishing school gardens, but don’t “go it alone”. Teamwork is the best approach to establishing and maintaining a school garden. The entire school, and even the community, can benefit from a school garden. Whether the garden provides tasty foods to add to school menus, educational opportunities for children or a place of peace and beauty, there are benefits for everyone.
Learning comes alive for students and teachers in a school garden setting. Gardens create dynamic, ever-changing, natural environments suitable for learning on every level. From reading and language arts, to science, math, and nutrition, to cross-cultural understanding, transformation happens in the school garden. The garden laboratory is the perfect setting to teach children about healthy eating. Nothing teaches a student more effectively than a hands-on experience of planting, nurturing, harvesting and eating foods from their own school garden. The student will learn where food comes from and how important and difficult it is to cultivate delicious food. A lifelong appreciation of agriculture can be built from meeting a local farmer and learning about a different way of life.
A school garden can teach students about natural pesticides, composting, anatomy of insects, and the variety of plant species. Curriculum activities in the garden can include food growing science, plant science, cooking and nutrition, wetland habitats and restoration, and native history. A school garden can be an excellent school fundraising project and an opportunity for a garden buddy program pairing up older children with younger children to work in the gardens. An experience with a school garden can connect the student to healthy eating and food systems, fractions and measuring, definition of a whole food and parts of plants, and healthy food preparation. See USDA’s School Garden Fact Sheet for information and ideas on using gardens to grow healthy habits in cafeterias, classrooms, and communities.
To get started, review this fact sheet, Starting and Maintaining a School Garden, from the National Farm to School Network.
Wisdom from Others:
Captain Planet Project Learning Garden Program – The Captain Planet Foundation supports environmental stewardship projects in schools and communities. Project Learning Garden supports outdoor learning spaces in schools by providing gardens and tools, curriculum, professional learning, program support and other resources.
Edible School Gardens – Georgia Organics has information on creating and sustaining a school garden, guidance on planting and harvesting, using school garden produce, and a section on connecting the garden to classroom learning.
Food Safety Tips for School Gardens – Tips to enhance the safety of produce grown in a school garden from the Institute of Child Nutrition (formerly the National Food Service Management Institute). Includes practices on site selection, materials, and water use, chemicals and fertilizer use, growing and harvesting produce, and using school garden produce in the school meal program.
Georgia Planting Guide for School Gardens – This guide from Georgia Organics will tell you what to plant, when, and how much.
KidsGardening – A nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting school and youth garden programming. The KidsGardening Toolbox has information and resources on creating, designing, and sustaining a school garden. Visit the Resources section for lesson plans and garden activities.
School Garden Checklist – This step-by-step guide and checklist offers information on growing a school garden, from Let’s Move!
School Garden Grants – Check this website for school garden grant opportunities, from the Whole Kids Foundation.
School Garden Q&As: Memo SP 32-2009: From the USDA, Food and Nutrition Service, this memo addresses questions regarding the operation of a school garden and use of nonprofit school food service account funds for starting and maintaining a school garden.
Farm to School and School Garden Expenses: Memo SP 06-2015: This memo from the USDA, Food and Nutrition Service, includes questions and answers on specific scenarios related to the use of funds from the nonprofit school food service account to cover expenditures related to farm to school activities and school gardens.
The Edible Schoolyard Project – The Edible Schoolyard Project works to build and share a K-12 edible education curriculum, offer an online network and resource center, and provide professional development opportunities.
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension – School Garden Resources – Resources on getting started, tending the garden, sustainability, curriculum, evaluation, research and publications, and tips from teachers.