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.
A school garden takes some planning, but the effort is worth the reward! Use theese easy steps to get started:
Get the buy-in of school administrators by highlighting the crossover with various academic subjects, along with nutrition benefits.
Identify a location for the garden. If there isn’t space available or if you need to take a start-small approach, consider a container garden or tower garden. They’re easy to use, portable for summer months, and require very little maintenance (no weeding—woo-hoo!).
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.
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.
Once a plan is developed, assign activities to individuals or classes. For example, one class might be responsible for preparing the soil or ground, while another could be in charge of planting, and so on.
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.
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!
Here are a few other tips to consider:
It’s okay to start small! Devoting time to a container garden is a step in the right direction.
Promote, promote, promote! Take advantage of PTA meetings, staff meetings, back-to-school packets, morning announcements and flyers.
Include ways to be physically active with planting, maintaining and harvesting the school garden.
Make sure everyone involved is part of the harvesting so they can see the growing process from beginning to end.
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.
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.