Open thread: School gardens

Fill me in on everything you know about school gardens: how to start one, school gardens you know that are working great, organizations that support community gardens.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

40 thoughts on “Open thread: School gardens

  1. I don't know much about but I do know that our local elementary school has a garden and a couple parents I know have RAVED about it. They said their kids as young as kindergarten are involved with it and learning to cook with food from it.

    The school is Lake Silver Elementary in Orlando, Fl:

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Vegetable gardens are banned in Montgomery County, Maryland by our Superintendent Jerry Weast.

  3. I teach at a private secondary school in Mexico City. I'm not sure how our garden started, but the biology teacher periodically pulls kids from classes to work on it, and just this week they made tortillas out of the corn that had been growing. The kids were really excited. The school will be moving to a new site next year, with even more room for gardening. The plan is to use the produce in the school cafeteria. We're actually going to be starting a project next year in the math classes where the kids create models based on nutritional information and design the menus for the week.

  4. When I was in school here in eastern Kentucky we had an agriculture department. The kids could major in agriculture, there was quite a few classes. But anyway, they got to have a garden and they raised pigs. At the end of the season they and their families got to eat all the stuff they grew, including the pig.
    I wish I had taken those classes. 🙂

  5. We did a childrens garden, not a school garden, but it worked GREAT. One of the coolest ideas was a giant wheel planter. It was a huge wheel with spokes created by haybales staked into the ground to create above ground planters. They were straw bales-super cheap! Then they were filled in with soil and we planted them with seeds donated by the community and plants donated by the local greenhouses. They came in amazingly well, and we all had a great time working together!

  6. We started one this year. ok so we homeschool. But still I can tell you it is a fab schoolin' opportunity….from Gifted to special ed. An it offers an opportunity for children who are special ed to TRULY be "integrated." (Part of the reason we homeschool is because integration is just a word..and is very rarely done correctly.) It (gardening) is an extremely flexible medium to encourage kids to work together.

  7. Our Ecology teacher is in charge of the gardens at our high school. They grow both flowers and vegetables in a tiny greenhouse. This year, he and his students began developing their plans to increase their "Green Effect" (the name of their program) on our community.

    They enhanced their recycling program to include many more materials, began plans to increase their bed space in their gardens, and started developing a partnership with other programs within the school for a composting process. They are trying to get the logistics figured out so that they can compost waste from the cafeteria, the teacher lounges, and the Home-Ec classes.

  8. 14 years ago I was at Ballast Point Elementary in Tampa, FL and the gifted class made a school garden. We didn't cook with it (yet) and the garden died out for some reason, after I left. Last time I visited, the teacher that spearheaded the idea was still there but the garden was not.

    What I do remember vividly was how excited we all were and the support we got from faculty, staff, and parents – I remember other classes taking trips to watch us work on ti. First thing we grew (or that grew, can't remember which)were chili peppers and I still have the 1st grown pepper dried up as a souvenir – I had first dibs as I was the one that did most of the digging.

    The garden was two long rectangles, about 4 by 12 feet each, bordered and split length-wise by a trench about 3-4 inches deep to retain water. We had manure/topsoil to make up for Florida's lack of nutritional soil and besides chili peppers, I think we grew (or tried to grow) peas, egg plants, and some other things I cannot remember, but I think we went for at least 8 different produce plants.

    Actually, if I recall correctly, this little project stemmed from the success of another gardening project of a butterfly garden. That one I was less involved in, but last time I was there, the butterfly garden was dilapidated as well.

  9. Shelly – Thanks for posting a link to the Edible School Yard. What an incredible project! I've never seen anything like that. I absolutely wish my school had that when I was younger!

  10. we wanted to start a garden last year in a Head Start program, but were told it would be 'too big a liability' Fail…

  11. Hi, Mrs. Q. I have commented before, and I will comment again, as this subject really interests me, and I enjoy reading the other comments as it gives ideas that hopefully will catch on, and rather sooner than later.

    I'm from Iceland, and in Iceland kids have "Home Economic" lessons from the age of 8, once a week, until the age of 13, when it becomes and elective. Needless to say, everyone chooses to continue with it. But I digress.
    In every single neighbourhood, there is a "school garden", which aren't in use over the course of the school year (Iceland = cold), but as soon as classes are out in the beginning of June, kids from 8-12 flock to these gardens, where each child is assigned a small lot in which he or she can grow a wide variety of vegetables (no fruit, see previous parantheses).

    This is by no means obligatory, parents by a minimal sum as it is a sort of daycare for kids over the summer while their parents are at work. In between weeding and planting, the kids play games and learn about nature, and at the end of the summer, there is a big harvest festival and the kids get to take home the summer crop and share with the rest of the family.

    Every single year there is a waiting list for these school gardens (they are currently being expanded, and there are few children in the greater Reykjavik (the capital) area who haven't at least once taken home plump tomatoes, heavy heads of cauliflower and sweet-smelling carrots to enjoy with mum and/or dad on a (relatively) warm late summer night.

    I don't know if such a thing exists in the United States, but from first-hand experience, I can only tell you that not only do I cherish fond memories from my time in the school gardens, but everyone around me got a fair share of the pleasure.

    Hopefully will the snowball you pushed of the hill gain in volume and importance and end with becoming a real avalanche, in the most positive sense of the expression.

  12. Slow Food Denver has been working for about 8 years to bring school gardens and healthy eating into Denver-area schools through our Seed to Table program. We currently support about 30 school gardens and youth farmers markets in elementary and middle schools throughout the metro area. The 2010-11 school year will see local produce introduced into Denver Public Schools' Food Services, and some of it will come from the school gardens. It's a tremendous program run by dedicated volunteers. Visit our web site, or the Seed to Table wiki pages for more info. Good luck to all of you who understand the necessity of educating our kids about healthy eating and who are working so hard to make it happen!

  13. Hope to learn more from the responses about garden items being used in school meals, to what extent, how they were integrated, and if vegetable consumption has increased due to the education aspect.

    Perhaps too, learning more about the objections that were enountered and how they were overcome. Off to read the links posted.

    In this area, the gardening seson is during the time school is not in session, so hope to learn more about dealing with that aspect too.

  14. I've just found your blog and I'm extremely glad that someone has taken the time to document something as important as this.

    People don't always realize that food really does affect behavior. I've witnessed it and I've felt it myself.

    My high school had placed a no junk food ban, but the 'healthy' alternatives were often just as unappetizing as the greasy pizza previously ordered – not to mention the prices had taken a large spike.

    Now in college, I don't see the food getting any better. Living on campus makes it so that we are forced to buy a dining hall plan unless we make an appointment to be seen so we can repeal it – though often times they wont let you. It's ridiculously overpriced as often times the only thing I'll be willing to eat is a pb&j sandwich that I've gone to make myself.

    I hope for there to be change in the food systems! And I hope for this project of yours to help stand as proof that change is needed.


    And as far as school gardens go, my college's used to have a strong following on campus for theirs. With the budget cuts though, they've let go some of our gardeners and students who would work on it. I'm not sure what state it is in now.


  15. Just found your blog and I have to commend you on taking this journey. The state of school lunch is really abysmal and it's great that you are opening people's eyes to the problem. I love the idea of a school garden, not just to feed the children but really to teach them where their food comes from. I personally believe that nutrition should be taught in all grades. Not just the basic food pyramid stuff that they tell them now, but real nutritional facts. Good Luck to you on your journey.

  16. There's a terrific effort underway here in Fairfield County, CT to get school gardens going in every district. has added a comprehensive list of resources for school gardens to the groupsite, The resources are in the SHARED file cabinet so you can download them as documents. Info on grant funding for gardens, where to source materials, health district guidelines, directions on how to build a raised bed and how to integrate gardens with K-12 curriculum are some of the MANY resources you will find there.

  17. Hi Mrs. Q – I love reading your blog, thanks for including an open post about school gardens! I work for REAL School Gardens ( in Fort Worth, TX and we work to create, support, and sustain learning gardens in our regional network, which currently includes 66 schools in North Texas.

    At this point, I would say there are limited capabilities to use the produce from the gardens in school cafeterias but it is something that many of our school communities are interested in. I know one of our schools partners with a vocational high school that runs a restaurant and is able to use some of the produce. Some of our schools are able to do cooking/food preparation as part of classroom activities. We believe that gardens are a wonderful environment for learning all kinds of valuable lessons related to engineering, biology, teamwork, healthy eating, and much more.

    Thank you for being part of the larger community that is working to help our children lead healthier and happier lives – we believe school gardens are an important part of making that happen.

  18. Our college campus has a community garden and a club and a residence hall that focus on sustainability. In addition to the garden this term they organized a trip to work on a local organic farm.

  19. Our elementary school has a school garden that the facility manager has organized. We are also partnering with our community senior gardeners. Each grade has a raised bed of a specific type of garden: salsa, italian, salad, flower,new world (I have no clue), and stir fry. We also have a compost pile. Last year was the first year of our garden and we were able to incorporate some of the produce into the cafeteria food.

  20. I'm an environmental planner and have been researching all of these issues for a few years now, particularly aspects of suburban agriculture. School gardens can be great and wonderful things, if only for teaching kids what real foods are and how they grow, and not necessarily to supply the kitchen – but the most important thing we have found is they must have a CHAMPION in the principal and extra support at the school. We've seen too many cases where maybe one or two teachers ran a successful garden however ended up leaving, and the higher-ups were never really behind them and there went the garden.

  21. My kids' elementary school had a community garden & the place that helped the volunteer who got it going pull it together was called Urban Harvest.

  22. We use our school garden – Skokie, IL – to help foster community involvement in our extremely diverse district. Working together with our children helps to break down any language barriers we may have as well as bring people together who might not otherwise.

  23. My kids' primary school has a garden. It looks awful half of the year (it's IL, not a lot can grow for the cold half of the year) and it takes up the front half of the school lawn…. and I wouldn't have it any other way! I love that all the kids participate (even the kindergarteners plant marigolds)and they all feel a sense of pride and ownership. It is run by our local U of I extension office in partnership with the school. (The school is C.B. Smith Primary School in Pekin, IL.) They have a bean tepee, a sunflower house, and other neat things for the kids to walk through. I wish all schools had one, especially the primary schools.

  24. We used to have a garden when I was in middle school–it was part of the 7th grade science curriculum. Students were broken into pairs and each couple got a plot that was about 12×24" where you could grow whatever you wanted.

    It was a small plot, but it was neat because the project started with students mapping out how their plot layout would look, then we bought the seeds and planted (I seem to recall that the teacher provided an assortment of seeds for the students who couldn't afford their own).

    Students could grow flowers, vegetables, whatever. I recall my partner and I growing daffodils, but when one of our neighbor's lettuce spread into our plot, there certainly weren't any complaints, since we were allowed to keep whatever grew in our square.

    It was very neat though, because we learned all about plant growth and reproduction, and we even dissected orchids!

  25. I'm home schooled (I'm about to graduate) and this past year I started a hydroponic garden it took more equipment then a normal garden to start but it might make more sense for schools since they produce year round, they would also be better for high school students since they could focus more on the exact needs of the plants by customizing the nutrients and amount of light.

  26. Check out for a community nonprofit that develops gardens for neighborhoods, schools, and businesses in Lexington, KY! They have educational programs for all ages, including affordable cooking workshops for community members.

  27. I am an elementary school teacher and often eat the school lunch with my kids. This blog is really informational and entertaining. I am excited about proposing a school garden to my principal tomorrow! What an awesome learning adventure! Thanks for sharing your lunch with us!

  28. I am in the state of AL and here the Alabama Wildlife Federation will help you start a school garden/outdoor classroom. They also offer many workshops for teachers during the summer. The workshops are 3 days long, $35 and the AWF pays for food/room for the teachers attending. You might check your local wildlife federation and check into what programs they offer. The AWF membership is $50, one time, lifetime membership. This gets the school help staring the garden, discounts on items needed and people who are working to be 'master gardeners' will come and help maintain your garden.

  29. I started a school garden about 3 years ago at my kids school in Colorado and worked with the non-profit Slow Food to help me get it going. They help start gardens all over the nation and are a fantastic resource! The kids love the garden and there are endless aspects to it.

  30. My school has a garden. It's been at the school for about 10 years. Myself and another teacher are in charge of it. There is also a garden committee made up of 3 other parents one who is a master gardener. The kids love it. Each grade level has their own raised bed where they plant, weed, and water their own plants. We're just starting to get things that they can eat. We also have a composting barrel.

    It's a large financial investment each year (replenishing soil, mulch, plants, gloves for the kids, etc.), but the kids are learning a lot from it. No more planting lima bean seeds in plastic baggies. No, we're planting pumpkins and strawberries and radishes.

    We're lucky enough to be able to plant spring and fall vegetables for them to try. I can't wait to plant kohlrabi for them to try this fall.

  31. Please also check out s'COOL Gardens:

    They are doing amazing things here in Santa Barbara County, and when you check out the website, also look at the other initiative called s'COOL Food, which trains cafeteria worker in a "culinary boot camp" as well as helps schools in all sorts of ways implement real food.

  32. I'm a senior at a Southern California high school in a Zoology/Botany class whose teacher also teaches Biology. He started a school garden four years ago. We've grown sugar snap peas (something I had never had before; I'm hooked on them now), lettuce, tomatoes, chilies, onions, and cilantro to name a few. As the vegetables ripened, we were allowed and encouraged to take some home. The class has been working on growing ingredients typically used in salsa-making, which we will learn to do at the end of the year. The school recently won an award for the garden at an agriculture fair.

  33. This last summer, I worked as a volunteer at a garden we set up at the local library with the children's department there. The children started the seeds at home and when they were ready to be transplanted, they brought them back to the library and helped plant them into the ground. The garden itself was a tiny area in the back parking lot – essentially a grassy 'island.' The children heaped compost into the garden and would weed and tend to the garden weekly. When things were ready to harvest, the kids would pick out what they wanted and we would either teach them how to cook it or make them try the fruits of their labors right there. Often as the kids were weeding they'd reach other to take a bit of lettuce or spinach. Whatever was left over from thee garden that the children's families didn't want was walked over to the nearby soup kitchen. The garden was productive from May until about October where they harvested tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, beans, pumpkins, squash and a host of herbs.

  34. Got Dirt?, a statewide program in Wisconsin, trains teachers to start and maintain a school garden. The goal of our program is to increase children's knowledge and consumption of fresh fruits and veggies.

    Check out our website ( for easy to use manuals and everything you need to know to start a school garden, including indoor gardening options for cold climates!

  35. We're out here, we gardening public school parents. I help run a small raised bed vegetable garden in a Los Angeles public elementary, and the kids love it. Parents, get involved! Volunteer to do the garden, and then do it – invest in it with cash and time. Our kindergarteners keep the peas picked clean, and eat up every one. Lessons learned.

  36. If you Google "how to start a school garden" you'll see that Johns Hopkins has a toolkit, and there is too. From what I've seen, it seems that in general, school gardens need: the blessing of those in charge (making a convincing case helps), those with know-how, adequate space, dedicated volunteers, enthusiastic students, grants and donated goods and money if the school can't support it, and rules for students to follow. Most importantly you need a "spearheader" who will see it through.

    There are plenty of naysayers, so anyone who wants to do this needs to be armed with solutions. And solutions are out there. Rural and suburban schools have easier access to land, but urban schools can utilize vacant lots, window-boxes, and rooftops. As for specific school gardens, these are in the Albany, NY area:

    East Greenbush school district, Goff Middle School ( has a garden with the veggies donated to local food pantries and used in their cooking classes. The link really outlines how they did it. Note their "garden angel" school board member.

    Guilderland school district, Farnsworth Middle School – run by the student Green Club, volunteers in the summer too, all organic.

    Guilderland school district, Guilderland Elementary School – flowers only, for fall and spring, 3rd – 5th grades only.

    I've also read about other situations where the students start the seedlings in the classroom, give them to a local farmer to plant and tend to during the summer, and harvest once school is in session.

    The garden can (and should) also be worked into the curriculum, so it isn't just digging in the dirt (some argue that school gardens are a waste of time, but this article examines the issue: This can be done in a variety of venues: Science, Math, English, Social Studies, Health, Home Ec., History. If "teaching content is teaching reading" (check out Daniel Willingham's video on Youtube), gardens can make for great content.

Comments are closed.