How to Help Start a School Garden

March 19, 2014

With the firm belief that healthy students are better learners, many schools across Colorado are joining the school garden movement. A school garden can become an outdoor classroom that offers embedded learning opportunities, fostering academic achievement as well as social and emotional growth for students.

Through gardening, students see firsthand where food comes from, building a lifelong appreciation of how food is grown. Students also have the opportunity to touch, smell and taste new foods, encouraging healthy eating habits. Time spent in the garden allows math, science, literature and art curriculum to come alive for students, while providing endless opportunities for teamwork and physical activity.

Gardens also foster a sense of community centered around your school. Community work days in the garden bring families together from different neighborhoods and different cultures, building relationships that ultimately create a safer community for students.

Here are some tips for starting a garden at your own school:

  • Collaborate with school administration and staff to create a cohesive vision for the school garden.
    Discuss how the garden can support school curriculum at various grade levels. Create a core group teachers who will serve as garden champions, educating and empowering other teachers to use the garden as a learning tool, regardless of previous gardening experience.
  • Identify funding options for your garden.
    With lean public school budgets, school gardens can be funded through grants, fundraisers and donations. Grant opportunities for school gardens are plentiful, and a simple online search can reveal the most current offerings. Local businesses often look for opportunities to give back to their community, so visit businesses surrounding your school and ask for their support. Also, reach out to your school’s PTO and inquire if some of the school’s fundraisers can benefit the garden. After initial construction costs, school gardens can become financially self-sustaining. Student-run farmers’ markets, plant sales, seed sales and garden-to-cafeteria programs can raise funds needed for garden upkeep.
  • Cast a wide net for parent volunteers.
    A successful school garden requires much more than gardening experts. Reach out to your school community in search of grant writing gurus, construction industry professionals, fundraising experts, classroom volunteers, landscape architects, marketing geniuses, and dirt movers.
  • Create a plan for maintaining your garden when school isn’t in session.
    Allow families to sign up to care for the garden for a week at a time over the summer. As a bonus, families can harvest any ripe produce during their week-long responsibility. Additionally, invite Girl Scout troops, Boy Scout troops and school summer enrichment programs to participate in garden care.

Kristin Conley is a registered dietitian who has worked in hospitals for 8 years and has written about food and nutrition for She is budget conscious and tries to provide interesting, healthy meals for her family.

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