School gardens

Across the country, school gardens are providing hands-on teaching opportunities and helping students move toward better nutrition habits. In fact, nutritional messages delivered through school gardens have a greater impact on healthy food behaviors than nutrition education alone.[1]

Members of the school community see firsthand how childhood obesity impairs both child health and school success. With students consuming half their daily calories at school, we have the power to make a difference in what they eat. A school garden can fuel students’ learning by providing fresh and healthy produce for nutritious school meals.

Anyone in the school can start a garden! Begin small, with a few indoor plant containers or a small outdoor patch. Many school gardens contribute to school meal programs, with food professionals using the produce when preparing school breakfasts and lunches.

Students grow with a school garden

School gardens provide students with a range of health, academic, cognitive and behavioral benefits. For example, these students have:

Health and nutrition

  • Higher intakes of fruits and vegetables, which are high in vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber.
  • A stronger preference for and willingness to try fruits and vegetables.
  • Better knowledge of fresh produce and nutrition.
  • An increased interest in cooking and gardening.
  • A greater appreciation for unfamiliar and ethnic food.[1]

Academics

  • Improved test scores in language arts, math, science and social studies.
  • Stronger cognitive skills, including better retention, comprehension and critical thinking.
  • Greater enthusiasm and interest in learning.[2]

Social/behavioral

  • Better working relationships with peers and teachers.
  • Improved group learning and teamwork.
  • More confidence and stronger communication skills.
  • Better discipline and stronger school pride.[3]

You have what it takes to start a school garden

Take the lead in making your school community healthier. There are grants and funding opportunities available to schools interested in starting a school garden. Read about AFT member Kelly Douglas and others who have started a school garden to get inspired.

Before talking with a school administration about starting a school garden, think through a few practical considerations: the size and location of the garden, what to grow, when to start, who will manage the garden and how to involve the students. Get help with the planning process by using the LetsMove.gov school garden checklist. There are also online school garden toolkits that provide detailed, step-by-step planning tools and ideas.

A school garden might even help on the way to winning the HealthierUS Schools Challenge award. Join the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Team Nutrition program for more free online resources on school gardening and creating successful and healthy schools.

Incorporate garden fare into school meals

  • Try a Harvest of the Month activity featuring a school garden vegetable or fruit.
  • Organize a taste test using school garden produce.
  • Start a salad bar in your cafeteria.
  •  Find grant opportunities to support more fresh produce in school meals.

Integrate the garden into instruction

Many educators use school gardens as a teaching tool to supplement lessons in the core subjects and in nutrition and health education classes. As a result, many have seen improvements in their students’ GPAs in subjects like math and science.[4]

Examples of classroom learning activities:

  • Language arts: Writing recipes and presenting on and reading about the history of gardens.
  • Science: Learning about plant life cycles, natural ecosystems and body nutrition.
  • Math: Measuring and categorizing produce, garden tools, counting and money.
  • Social studies/history: Reading about farming, agriculture, gardens and their history.

Resources and Tips


[1]Robinson-Obrien, R., M. Story, and S. Heim. "Impact of Garden-Based Youth Nutrition Intervention Programs: A Review." Journal of the American Dietetic Association: 273-80.

[2]Lieberman, Gerald A., and Linda L. Hoody. Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning. San Diego, Calif.: State Education and Environment Roundtable, 1998.

[3] Lieberman, Gerald A., and Linda L. Hoody. Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning. San Diego, Calif.: State Education and Environment Roundtable, 1998.

[4]Collective School Garden Network. "Why School Gardens?" Accessed January 21, 2015. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwPrdG-ryF_GYUZGR3Qway11NUk/edit

 

Planting gardens while building cultural bridges

Read about library assistant and AFT member Kelly Douglas, who started a Culture Club at her school for students from different backgrounds to get to know each other. The club maintains an impressive garden on school grounds, that helps feed students in the cafeteria and local senior citizens. Read the story.

Share your work

Write to us and share your school, district or members’ work on children’s health with the Child Health, Safety & Well-Being program.