How Does Your School Garden Grow?

After a long winter, Spring has finally arrived. For many, especially those who spent a season buried under record-breaking snowfalls, the warm weather means that it is time to plant the family garden. Home gardens have been on the rise since 2009 when the White House announce med plans to plant their own kitchen garden. Describing fruits and vegetables as “brain food,” first lady Michelle Obama’s personal plight to promote healthy eating habits for children have made their way to schools, and school gardens are now on the rise in America.

Last week, Education Week’s Evie Blad predicted that the ongoing USDA farm-to-school census that is currently underway would show a rise in the number of schools that have established school gardens. In her blog article School Gardens Are a Growing trend. What’s Growing in Yours?, Blad noted that back in the 2011-2012 school year, thirty one percent of farm-to-school food programs already had their own school gardens. With the increased mandates from the Federal government looking to see more fresh fruits and vegetables on school lunch trays, the challenge is on for schools to find cost-effective ways to meet those demands.

Education Week believes that school gardens are doing much more than providing fruits and vegetables. They have challenged readers to use #LearningInBloom on Twitter to share photos of their school gardens and describe the lessons being learned in them. On that hashtag, many are talking about what is happening at the Nature Conservancy in New York City. In a blog article for TreeHugger, Nature Conservancy’s Director of Youth Programs Brigitte Griswold writes about Planting school gardens, growing futures. She talks about their school gardens as learning centers for a variety of topics and interdisciplinary studies. “School gardens directly connect students to the outdoors and also offer avenues for children to directly experience the mysteries of nature where they spend the bulk of their day, while taking ownership of improving their communities and the nature we depend on for food, clean air, and water. While much of the growth in gardening focuses on food production, more and more schools are utilizing gardens to achieve additional outcomes such as storm water collection, increasing pollinator populations, and mitigating against heat island effect.”

Last week, Arizona Public Media highlighted the work being done in the Tucson Schools to develop school gardens. In their Garden to Cafeteria program, Nutrition Program Coordinator Michelle Welsh described the exciting foods being grown: “Some of the things that have been growing are Swiss chard, different kinds of lettuce, kale, kumquats, strawberries,” she said. “For one school, Manzo, we made a shaker salad, so it had things like greens and fruit and then we have dressing on the bottom. We made it fun and interactive so the kids actually had to shake that salad to incorporate the dressing.”

School gardens have the potential to raise science achievement scores. A twenty year study recently completed by the University of Georgia concluded garden-based learning had a positive impact on students’ grades, knowledge, attitudes, and behavior in areas such as math, language arts, but most importantly science. In their research brief, they highlighted “garden programs’ unique ability to improve science education for all types of learners, including children with special needs. This full spectrum, wide range of success can be attributed to the less structured, informal environment of the garden, which allows for more natural and spontaneous learning by the students, who become the creators of the science curriculum.
Students’ ownership of their learning solidifies the knowledge and skills gained in the garden.”

What will the future hold for school gardens? This author agrees with Education Week’s Evie Blad that school gardens are on the rise. So America, what will be growing in your school garden this year?

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education.


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