The past decade has witnessed substantial growth in the number of school gardens in the U.S., led by the state of California which has called for A Garden in Every School. Many schools have become aware of the multiple benefits of school gardening for students, teachers, schools, and communities.
Benefits of School Gardening for Students
1) Educational benefits
Gardening offers hands-on, experiential learning opportunities in a wide array of disciplines, including the natural and social sciences, math, language arts (e.g., through garden journaling), visual arts (e.g., through garden design and decoration), and nutrition. With recent concern over relatively weak science and math skills among American children, the need for innovation in science and math teaching is apparent. There is mounting evidence that students who participate in school gardening score significantly higher on standardized science achievement tests (Klemmer, et.al. 2005). Further research along these lines can be found at Cornell University’s Garden Based Learning website and at the California School Garden Network.
2) Environmental stewardship and connection with nature
Richard Louv’s 2005 book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature deficit disorder is a call to action. A close connection with nature can be therapeutic in addressing attention deficit disorders and other problems faced by so many children today. Dr. Peter Gorski, chief pediatrician at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, has recently affirmed the need to: “reverse the dangerous disconnection between children and nature – dangerous for children’s health, for their growth and development and for their opportunities, over time, to preserve a healthy society.” By deepening children’s sense of connection with nature, school gardening can inspire environmental stewardship. When children learn about water and energy cycles, the food chain, and the peculiar needs of individual species, and when they feel a sense of connection to a certain species or individual plant, they have a reason to care about all the forces that impact that plant’s future. A garden offers many occasions for achieving insight into the long-term human impact on the natural environment. From the water shortage to the over-use of pesticides, children who engage in gardening have first-hand opportunities to observe the importance of conservation and intelligent allocation of resources.
Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA — in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”
3) Lifestyle and Nutrition
With children’s nutrition under assault by fast food and junk food industries, and with only about one-fourth of Florida adults eating recommended quantities of fruits and vegetables, it is no wonder that nearly one-third of Florida’s 10-17 year olds are reported to be overweight or at risk for being overweight. School gardening offers children opportunities for outdoor exercise while teaching them a useful skill. Gardens containing fruit and vegetables can also help to revise attitudes about particular foods. There is mounting evidence that active learning in less structured, participatory spaces like gardens is more likely to transform children’s food attitudes and habits, and that school gardening, especially when combined with a healthy lunch program or nutritional education, encourages more healthful food choices. Students are more likely to try eating vegetables they have grown themselves and to ask for them at home (Morris & Zidenberg-Cherr 2002). When students take their preferences back to their families, they can help to improve family consumption choices.
Benefits of School Gardening for Teachers, Schools and Communities
1) Active learning and student engagement
Gardening activities can help to engage students in learning in a way that is more difficult in the classroom. Gardening allows surprises to arise when insects land in the vicinity, when plants are afflicted with mites or fungus, or when the weather surprises everyone and disrupts the plan for the day, for example. These surprises show that nature is in control and they give students immediate and personal reasons for wanting to know the answers to pressing questions.
2) Student attention and class management
Because of the engaging nature of garden learning, students with attention deficit and other disorders often find it more suitable for their learning styles. Teachers report fewer discipline problems when science is taught in this sort of experiential manner, for example. Teachers develop useful concepts, such as “invisible walls,” to create a sense of boundaries when learning in the garden.
3) Teachers as gardeners
Teachers themselves also learn useful gardening skills when they incorporate gardening into their lesson plans. These skills can be transferred into their own homes and social networks, thereby benefiting their own health and the health of their families.
4) Connection to history and the community
Gardening ties students to the social and material history of the land. Gardeners from the community can be brought in to demonstrate local, traditional gardening techniques and the traditional uses of particular plants. Gardening offers many opportunities for connecting with local history by incorporating native plants and plants grown during specific historical eras.
5) School pride
Like a team sport or mascot, gardening can offer a symbolic locus of school pride and spirit. Gardening offers schools a way of helping children to identify with their school and to feel proud of their own individual contribution. Children know which plants they helped to grow, and they feel proud of them. This can improve school spirit and children’s attitudes toward the school.
The Edible Schoolyard Project: teaching essential life skills and support academic learning through hands-on classes and curriculum is fully integrated into the school day and teaches students how their choices about food affect their health, the environment, and their communities.
Edible education is making an impact in communities all over the world. Learn about the innovative work being done and support the incredible people doing it. If you have a program, join the network and share your story!
At the 2011 Feeding America Annual Summit, the Foodbank received the Program of the Year Award for the Kid’s Farmer’s Market Program. Out of 205 food banks and all of their programs, this award acknowledges the Foodbank for its innovative approach to ending childhood hunger.
The impact of the Kid’s Farmers Market Program extends to provide free produce and education to children that have an unmet need for a reliable produce source and do not have the financial means to purchase produce on a consistent basis. In alignment with the knowledge that fruits and vegetables are critical to promoting good health, the Kid’s Farmers Market Program combats health issues affecting low-income children such as diabetes and obesity through consistent distribution of produce and nutrition education.
“It takes a mama.”
Mountain Mamas is an artisan cooperative of local, like-minded women supporting the highest well being of our families and community.
Mountain Mamas came together to strengthen our skills, knowledge, and resources:
• Edible school gardens
• Organic heirloom seed sharing
• Animal rescue
• Community and school gardens
• Increasing the ability for community members to be self-sufficient
• Heard sharing
• Food sharing
• Farmers market
• Biodynamic farming
• Water conservation
• Sharing resources
• Living art
• Nourishing native plant products
• Educational/hands on classes for all ages
• Bulk meat buy-in
• Building community partnership
• Food storage
• Cooking and Slow Food
Mountain Mamas launched Nov. 2012 in Julian, California. Our community cooperative promotes self-reliance by using responsible and traditional practices.
Cooperative gardening members are not only able to grow a variety of nutritious vegetables on a year-round basis for their households, we are also able to supplement our programs by selling what we grow to local markets, but more importantly, we provide hungry families with the nourishment they need by sharing our harvest.