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Grow a School Food Garden

A school garden is an ideal place for children to experience hands-on learning about the process of food growing at the same time as creating a tangible link to the food system.  Stewarding the garden helps develop a deeper appreciation for the environment, whilst developing critical life skills.  An edible garden creates a dynamic element to school grounds, a teaching tool, and a community hub for positive inter-generational and multicultural activities.  The gardens blossom into a school and community resource for programming around such diverse topics as:  nutrition, environmental stewardship, art botany, composting, water conservation, community development and food preparation.  The garden teaches children patience and the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

In addition to the benefits of physical activity, and active and inquisitive approach to learning, gardening provides a calm oasis where one can become lost in the moment, a natural form of meditation that quiets the conscious mind.  It can also be a form of self-expression, enabling students to develop creativity and build confidence while allowing a healthy outlet for emotions.

In a study conducted by researchers at the National Foundation of Children, it was reported “the changeable nature of gardening projects, where anything from the weather to plant disease can affect the outcome, forced children to become more flexible, better able to think on their feet and solve problems”.

Here is a great webinar on school garden planning from The Peoples Garden.

Gardening helps develop a sense of achievement where we are able to step back and see the differences we have made and discover the small, important things in life. 


Steps to Establishing A School Garden

1. Acquire permission from the school’s administration. 

2. Who’s on your team? (see below)


Stakeholders:

Administrator - Principals can approve or deny teacher training time, determine use of space and dedicate funds.  They need to be the backbone of support.

Teachers - Even if teachers do not drive the garden, they will decide if the children will use it.

Students - Older students can be a great source of labour. Request parents or other adults volunteer some time assisting in workdays to learn with, and from the children.

Coordinator - The buck-stops-here-person.  Who is the identified person or small group that will deal when details fall through the cracks or assignments are not clear?

Team - Of the above, who will serve as the steering team to ensure the requirements of the garden are met?

Parents - Many of the tasks can be performed by anyone who is willing to devote the time, and parents can enjoy time with their children and their children’s friends. 

Cafeteria staff or food service - May not be necessary for sustaining the garden, but will have to be on the team if food and nutrition education or garden-to-table are priorities. In any case, good relationships should be courted as an investment in the kids’ food future even if this is not a current school priority.


3. Choose a site that is visible and accessible to students, but keep in mind where students play sports and snow removal patterns.  Choose a site where vegetables will get lots of sun, and will be close to your water source.

Ø Establish the garden in a highly visible, accessible location, making it a source of pride to the school and community
Ø Start small. Make it beautiful.  Have a vision for how it will expand.
Ø 8 hours of direct sun for fruiting crops and 6 hours for leaf crops and herbs. Place a sheet of paper in what you think is a sunny spot and record the sunlight hours through the day.
Ø Water source, must be very convenient. Watering takes place ideally very early in the day. Consider mulching to reduce use.
Ø Drainage. Avoid damp spots and steep spots. If drainage is not good, do raised beds.
Ø No competition from trees and roots for water, soil and sun.
Ø High visibility location for PR value. You want the public to see your garden.
Ø Located close to the school or teachers may not use it as readily.
Ø Protection. What might threaten the gardens – people and/or pests? Have a plan in place for protection.


4. Design:

Ø Garden beds, 3 (at most 4) feet wide, with clear wide pathways for trampling feet.
Ø A sitting area, including tables, preferably out of the harsh sun.
Ø Compost area.
Ø Tool shed or storage area.
Ø Cold frames or green house, if using them.
Ø Good, weatherproof signage.
Ø Fencing if needed.


Every aspect of creating and maintaining the garden can be a teaching and learning opportunity, e.g.:

· Math/accounting (costs & purchases projections, planning, tracking)
· Entrepreneurship (selling food in cafeteria, catering business)
· Geometry (designing garden beds, calculating soil/amendments, water needs)
· Physics (e.g. capillary action)
· Biology (plant growth studies, photosynthesis)
· Visual arts (painting of garden scenes, studies/sketches of leaf shapes)
· Music (provide background music in garden to improve ambience for workers)
· Cooking (creating recipes for harvested veggies)
· Social studies (health/fitness of working in garden, measuring heart rates, measuring nutritional values compared to grocery store produce; involve kids in research, planning, decision making, teaches democratic political process)
· Psychology (studying impacts/benefits of intergenerational, cross cultural activities)
· Architecture & design (planning garden space/orientation in relation to adjacent buildings, roads, trees; accommodating garden design for physical and mental handicaps)
· Geography (plant veggies from around the world, based on cultures of community, study why specific produce is grown in different climates, where the countries are, all the social & cultural factors about those foods in those places)


Check out some other incredible websites and resources:


“How to Grow A School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers” by Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle.  A book that provides advice on starting school gardens, including methods to raise funds specific to a school setting.

Foodshare in Schools