School Gardens


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Dr. Candice Shoemaker
Kansas Community Garden Conference, July 8-9, 2013

School Gardens are not a new concept, although they are currently experiencing an increase in popularity. School gardens come in all shapes and sizes - from a few buckets for container gardens to enough space to give each child their own plot. The purpose of school gardens is just as varied. This presentation will briefly describe the role of school gardens in education and youth development followed by best practices for establishing and sustaining a community-sponsored school garden.

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  • School gardens offer numerous benefits to children. Let’s start by taking a look at the research.
  • School gardening has been shown to increase self-esteem, help students develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, help foster relationships with family members, and increase parental involvement.
  • Students tend to learn more and better when they are actively involved in the learning process.In a project that involved integrating nutrition and gardening among children in grades one through four, the outcomes went well beyond an understanding of good nutrition and the origin of fresh food, to include enhancing the quality and meaningfulness of learning.Children with learning disabilities, who participated in gardening activities, had enhanced nonverbal communication skills, developed awareness of the advantages of order, learned how to participate in a cooperative effort, and formed relationships with adults
  • Third, fourth, and fifth grade students who participated in school gardening activities scored significantly higher on science achievement tests compared to students that did not experience any garden-based learning activities (Klemmer et al. 2005)Elementary school and junior high school students gained more positive attitudes about environmental issues after participating in a school garden program (Waliczek& Zajicek1999)After gardening, students have shown increased knowledge about nutrition, plant ecology, and gardening (Pothukuchi 2004) and After gardening, children have shown more positive attitudes toward fruit and vegetable snacks (Lineberger 1999).After gardening, kids possess an appreciation for working with neighborhood adults, and have an increased interested for improvement of neighborhood appearance (Pothukuchi 2004).Gardening programming positively influenced two constructs: "working with groups" and "self-understanding“ (Robinson, & Zajicek2005).In a summer school project that used a whole language approach with gardening as the central theme, the most significant student gains were in self-esteem and achievement in reading, reading comprehension, spelling, and written expression (Sheffield 1992)Linking storytelling with garden programs may serve to educate children about the processes that underlie and interweave diverse cultures' seasonal traditions (Bowles 1995)
  • There is a large gap between what public schools have and what they need. Parents and other community members have a great opportunity to fill this gap. There are many ways to do this, but it usually boils down to either giving time or money. School gardens require a little of each and are an excellent and inexpensive way to add value to a school site. Gardens are also a platform on which to build community.Enriching a school on so many different levels, a garden program is a gentle rebellion of sorts – an antidote to the sour note of diminishing resources.In many ways a school garden program fills the huge void left by the disappearance of home economics curricula from our schools. The valuable life skills from that curriculum, such as resourcefulness and thrift, or how to cook and shop with good nutrition in mind, or how to sit and share a meal with other people, basic civility, and even table manners, can be illustrated to some degree in a school garden.
  • So now that I’ve shared some of what we know about the usefulness and effectiveness of school gardens I wanted to go back in time and provide a brief history of school gardens.
  • The school garden movement received a huge boost during World War I, when the Federal Bureau of Education introduced the United States School Garden Army. During the interwar years and the Great Depression, youth participated in relief gardening. During World War II, a second Victory Garden program swept the nation, but after that, school garden efforts became the exception, not the norm. The tagline for theU.S. government’s youth gardening program in World War I was “A Garden for Every Child. Every Child in a Garden.” Wouldn’t this be a great idea today?
  • While many of our school districts in Kansas have plenty of land to provide more than hardscape playgrounds, many of our urban areas may look like this. An asphalt school yard is maintenance free, and fewer staff are needed to supervise the wide horizontal spaces at recess time. On asphalt yards recess play becomes the domain of play structures, whizzing balls, and competitive games. Where does a school garden fit in?
  • Through the development of a school garden ecosystem we can expand from the status quo of asphalt and bare-bones learning and bring learning to the robust beauty of a more a natural schoolyard ecosystem.
  • It is important to recognize that there is a deep history to the school garden concept. By beginning your own project, you are continuing to promote a method of teaching that incorporates many long-held values such as hard work, discipline, cooperation, and self-awareness. You are also promoting an education that fosters an awareness of nature, agriculture and nutrition, and community. Other school communities around the globe are doing similar projects to enrich and improve their children’s educational settings and nutrition. The motivations behind the past century of efforts remain the same.
  • There are many organizations and Internet resources that support garden-based learning. is a resource of the National Gardening Association that provides content and resources for children gardens and youth gardens. The California School Garden Network provides a wealth of information of creating and sustaining school gardens including resource guides, books, and videos. Through the Kansas Green Schools site you can link to the Kansas School Garden Coalition – a group of organizations interested in support school gardening efforts – that have developed a variety of lesson plans and how-to resources.
  • Spend time researching school gardens in your area. This will help you understand what is already happening and help you visualize and articulate your ideas.
  • Shadow the garden coordinator to get a sense of the management tactics and programmatic elements
  • Shadow the garden coordinator to get a sense of the management tactics and programmatic elements.Involve the children in every step along the way. Educators across the country report that when students are involved in all stages of the process, they are more invested in the project's success, and are inspired to care for and respect their gardens.Obtain buy-in from administrators. Make sure you have solid investment from the top down. Supportive administrators can provide valuable help in finding the time and resources needed for a successful garden project.Recruit parents, staff and community volunteers for a garden team. Many hands are needed to ensure a successful, sustainable garden program.Creating a team or committee that is actively involved results in the best garden plan possible, and it broadens your reach into the community for resources, adds extra hands for installation, helps prevent volunteer burnout during maintenance, and ensures long-term sustainability.
  • Inviting interested teachers and students, as well as the varied school clubs and classes who may use it, to participate in the planning process will increase student interaction and build a strong garden. A garden with many layers of engagement will ultimately be sustained over time. Imagine a garden where the fifth grade classes are studying pond ecology, the after-school care kids are harvesting afternoon snacks and having salad parties, the neighbors are growing a kitchen garden, the parent association hosts their end-of-the year party in the garden – this is a garden that will be sustained over time.Contact the school district’s facilities department and get them involved as you want to alter land they are responsible for. They will know where plumbing, electrical, gas, and irrigation lines are located. Sunlight. The garden will need at least six hours of direct sunlight a day – eight hours would be better yet.Gathering area to accommodate an entire class – may consist of benches, stools, hay bales, tree stumps, or anything else kids can sit onPathways to get to and through the garden, consider wheelchair accessibleTool shed for storing tools and equipmentYou may want to install drip irrigation but watering is a pleasure for students so let them do it by making sure there are adequate and conveniently located faucets.Good soil is a work in progress. Start with a soil test to determine any amendments needed to increase fertility and tilth.Fencing to help in defining the space and keeping garden pests out, not to keep intruders out – that may make the garden look like a prisonPlants – having goals will help with this. Will it be a food systems garden to support lessons on nutrition, health and botany? Or a native plant garden or historical garden?The site inventory will give you an understanding of how the school yard is currently being used and may reveal potential garden areas.
  • Pressure treated lumber, as it contains chemicals unsuitable for food crops or proximity to students hands and mouthsPlastic lumber make with wood fiber, which can be from pressure-treated lumber and will eventually break down in the soilRailroad ties because of their creosote contentOld tires and products made from recycled tires as them may leach contaminants into the soilMost plywood, which contains adhesives (urea formaldehyde and phenol formaldehyde) known to be carcinogenic in high concentrationsRecycled wood, if you don’t know the originOld bricks with paint on them to avoid possible lead contamination
  • There are many ways to get the most out of a limited garden space. A popular technique is utilizing vertical space by trellising crops, some of which would naturally sprawl across the ground, taking large amounts of space out of production. Peas, pole beans, cucumbers, and lightweight melons and winter squash could all benefit from this technique.Intercropping is a way to plant multiple crops within the same space. Plants that utilize different space based on their growth habit can happily grow together. The Three Sisters are an example of this.Companion planting is a form of intercropping in which selected crops are planted together to benefit one another. One example is the Three Sister planting technique, utilized for centuries by Native Americans. The Three Sisters include corn, beans, and squash, each of which plays a role in a mutually beneficial relationship. The corn grows tall, acting as a trellis for the beans. The beans, through a process called nitrogen fixation, provide fertility to the corn, which is a heavy feeder. The squash vines sprawl below the corn and beans, acting as a living mulch, which suppresses weeds and retains moisture in the soil.Growing crops in pots is a great place to start if space is not available (or approved for use) for an in-ground garden. Container gardens can add a splash of color, a learning lab, and a source of food to your school's landscape. Initial costs of purchasing soil and pots can be high, but your container garden can start small and expand as your budget allows. Your local hardware or home store may be willing to donate or provide a price break on these items for schools.Compact Varieties: choose varieties that are bred to grow in small spaces. Anything with the words patio, pixie, tiny, baby or dwarf in their name is a good bet. Just because a plant is bred to be small doesn't mean the fruits will be small or the yield will be less.Most seeds and seedlings will tell you the mature size of the plants you are selecting. Knowing that, you can space things out and see how much you can fit into your space.
  • The principal of each school and I worked together to select the best site at their school. We were looking for areas for a 24 x 48 foot high tunnel plus outside growing space. My criteria were a site that was level, near a water source, with little shade. The principals added that they needed it to be located in such a way that children could not hide from the recess monitors. Each site presented challenges
  • Each site presented challenges. Amanda Arnold only had one site large enough which was located between a creek and the parking lot. All the rain water from the building, the parking lot, and the street flowed across this site to the creek. Ogden did not have any space on the school grounds for the high tunnel or even a garden. Theodore Roosevelt had a very nice, level area, but between the irrigation lines and shade it wasn’t big enough for our needs. And Bergman was built on a very steep hill so the property was organized into three terraces, none of each were very wide. But we still managed to build high tunnels at each school.
  • A community school garden of school staff, and community members, organizations, and businesses is the best strategy for building a sustainable school garden.Businesses such as Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, etc., have local community development programs – many offer a store credit that can be used to by tools and supplies.Organizations such as the Rotary Club, Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, for example, are often times looking for community projects to donate time and money to.
  • School Gardens

    1. 1. SCHOOL GARDENS Candice Shoemaker Department of Horticulture, Forestry, and Recreation Resources Kansas State University
    3. 3. CHILD DEVELOPMENT BENEFITS  School gardening enhances students’ lives  Increase self-esteem  Develop a sense of ownership and responsibility  Foster relationships with family members  Increase parental involvement (Alexander & Hendren, 1998)
    4. 4. STUDENT LEARNING BENEFITS  School gardening promotes higher quality learning  Gardens foster active involvement thus students tend to learn more and better (McCormick et al., 1989)  Gardens enhance the quality and meaningfulness of learning (Canaris, 1995)  Gardens enhance learning for all students (Sarver, 1985)
    5. 5. HELPING MEET STATE LEARNING STANDARDS  Science achievement  Environmental education  Nutrition and health education  Civic education  Occupational studies  English Language Arts  Social Studies
    6. 6. GARDENING CAN BRING ANY ASPECT OF THE CURRICULUM TO LIFE “Gardening isn’t an add-on, but rather an integral part of the whole curriculum.”
    7. 7. SCHOOL GARDENS IN A TIME OF DWINDLING RESOURCES  Add value to a school site  Provide a platform on which to build community  An antidote to the sour note of diminishing resources  Fills the void left by the disappearance of home economics curricula
    9. 9. HISTORY School gardens
    10. 10. HISTORY School gardens
    11. 11. HISTORY School gardens Progressive Era  75,000 school gardens
    13. 13. HISTORY School gardens  1970s Environmental movement  1990s Education reform and Environmental education  Current:  Farm-to-School  Climate change  Reconnect children to the natural world  Growing awareness of sustainability issues and green practices
    14. 14. A CALL TO ARMS
    15. 15. A CALL TO ARMS
    16. 16. A CALL TO ARMS
    17. 17. GETTING READY  Do your homework www.kansasgreenschools.o rg
    19. 19. GETTING READY  Do your homework  When visiting gardens find out  How they gathered administrative support  How a garden program is integrated into the school day  Shadow the garden coordinator
    20. 20. GETTING READY  Gathering Support  Who will be involved in the garden program?  Students  Administrators  Parents, staff and community volunteers  Build a team
    21. 21. COMMUNITY • Members: school and after-school staff, Extension staff, MG, PTO members, community members • Role models from within community • Various skills & experience • Support school • Intergenerational benefits • Create safe community environment
    22. 22. GETTING READY  Defining the goals of the school garden  What do you want to accomplish? (goals)  How will you get their? (objectives)  This will help with fundraising and garden planning
    23. 23. GOALS  Exposing students to hands-on environmental education  Enhancing the curriculum by connecting it to the natural world  Providing students with the opportunity to grow and eat fresh produce  Building a school-based ecosystem where there was none  Offering parents an opportunity to engage with the school community  Developing a program that will sustain itself from year to year  Making the school site more attractive and welcoming; and any other goals specific to our school site
    24. 24. DESIGNING THE GARDEN  Engage future uses of the garden in the design process  Involve the school district  Conduct a site inventory  Sunlight  Gathering area  Pathways  Tool shed  Water faucets  Good soil  Fencing  Plants
    25. 25. DESIGNING THE GARDEN QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER  How will our garden be part of our neighborhood, part of our community?  Is there an accessible water source nearby?  When will the sun shine on your garden, when will the wind blow?  What other features on site will help or harm the health of our garden?  What is the quality of our soil?  How does water naturally flow and percolate on and through the soil?  Where will we take our produce? How will we get it there?  What climate zone do we live in? When are the first and last frosts of the season?  How can we make the most of the limited space available?  How will lay out garden beds, pathways, and fences?
    26. 26. GARDEN TIPS PRODUCTS NOT TO USE  Pressure treated lumber  Plastic lumber made with wood fiber  Railroad ties  Old tires  Plywood  Recycled wood  Old bricks with paint
    27. 27. GARDEN TIPS OPTIONS FOR SMALL SPACES  Utilize vertical space  Intercropping  Companion planting  Container gardening  Compact varieties
    28. 28. GARDEN TIPS SEASON EXTENDERS  Any gardening technique or practice that allows you to start growing plants earlier or keep plants growing later in the fall and winter for  Earlier harvest season  Later harvest season  Longer harvest season  Utilize plant growing techniques that will extend the season  Cultivar selection  Mulch  Cold frames  Row covers  Low and high tunnels
    29. 29. HIGH TUNNEL AND GARDEN CONSTRUCTION High tunnels, or hoophouses, are unheated greenhouses that are used to extend the growing season.
    30. 30. HIGH TUNNELS  Can cost as little as $0.50 per square foot  Are tall enough to walk-in comfortably  Most high tunnels are passively ventilated via roll-up sidewalls  Crops generally require no heat
    31. 31. HIGH TUNNEL SITE SELECTION  Level  Near a water source  Limited shade from trees and buildings  No hiding areas
    32. 32. HIGH TUNNEL SITE SELECTION  Site challenges  Regular flooding  No space or limited space  Shade  Terracing  Results  Reduced size of one high tunnel  Use of vacant land  Top of a steep hill
    33. 33. FINANCES AND FUNDRAISING  Questions to consider  Who will be in charge of financial management for the garden?  Will the school absorb hard costs such as water and school staff labor, or do thoese need to be included in the budget?  What expenditures will be necessary as the garden plan is implemented?  Which expenditures are absolute "necessities" and which are "accessories" that may be added as additional resources become available?  Are funds available from grants, sponsorships, projected revenue, etc.?  Where might we seek in-kind donations of space, supplies, seeds, labor, etc.?
    34. 34. BUILDING A COMMUNITY SCHOOL GARDEN  Establishing strong relationships  School staff  Community members  Community organizations  Community businesses
    35. 35. GET STARTED