School Gardens: It’s Never Too Early To Start

– Posted in: Edible Organic Gardens

school-gardens-resized-flowersIn my home away from home, Israel, I am lucky enough to be living in a model neighborhood in North Tel Aviv that has three schools within a one quarter-mile radius. The one that I walk by every day, literally around the block from me, is a pre-school. It’s nothing fancy but is considered to be one of the most exceptional (and difficult to be accepted to) schools in this area.

school-gardens-resized-photo-of-garden-with-scarecrow-through-gateI can only assume from the festive, rambunctious garden out front that this is quite a special setting for kids to come to 6 days a week. Outside of a wonderful place for the children to romp about and view from inside, it is clear that these gardens are used as a teaching tool.

A plethora of studies have been done about the effects of  edible school gardens on students’ nutrition. Alice Waters, a renowned pioneer in the creation of edible organic gardens had the vision decades ago that when children experienced hands on touching of the soil, planting seeds, observing vegetables grow and then picking them ripe off the vines, that one of the many the results would be that these young people would eat more nutritous meals. She has been a major force behind the Obama administration making the decision to plant a White House Organic Vegetable Garden.

Her creation, Edible Schoolyard  describes itself as:

“The Edible Schoolyard (ESY), a program of the Chez Panisse Foundation, is a one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom for urban public school students at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California. At ESY, students participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting, and preparing nutritious, seasonal produce.

Classroom teachers and Edible Schoolyard educators integrate food systems concepts into the core curriculum. Students’ hands-on experience in the kitchen and garden fosters a deeper appreciation of how the natural world sustains us and promotes the environmental and social well being of our school community.”

school-garden-resized-raised-bedFor close to twenty years, I  have witnessed (from running an inner city elementary school gardening project) how children who are involved in all forms of gardening develop a greater appreciation of nature as well as choosing to eat more nutritiously. Years later, when several of the students (who were  then college aged) called to let me know what an impact the gardening project had made on them, they mentioned that they had modified their eating habits because of what they had experience and learned from that time. And yes, they told me, they were still eating fresh veggies. But they also talked about the awesome feeling of observing veggies and flowers giving birth from seed. They recounted the thrill of being surrounded by beauty, some said, for the first time.

school-gardens-resized-flowers-planted-in-tiresOne of the most beautiful sights I ever saw was when a group of thirty plus students from the inner city of Philadelphia got off the bus for a visit and ‘gardening lesson’ at Chanticleer. They quickly started walking  around, some at a fast pace with others lingering, eyes as big as saucers, asking about this and that flower. Yet, they stood silently and respectfully when one of the horticulturists taught them how to stake a plant. It was the sight of these kids though, rolling down a steep hill towards the series of lotus filled ponds at the bottom, shouting with glee, which to this day continues to remind me that the beauty of nature and being surrounded by it is one of the greatest gifts we can offer our children: as well as introducing them to what could become a lifelong friend.

school-gardens-reisze-entryway-lupines-and-nasturtiumsEach time I walk by the neighborhood pre-school, I stop and gaze, marveling at the magnificent playfulness and whimsy of what has been created. Nothing complex but filled with love, color, an abundance of different plants, including native wildflowers, edible plants, herbs, annuals, bulbs and who knows what else! Several of the plants are are labeled.  A teaching garden? You bet!  A fun place to be, digging in the dirt, planting things and watching them grow? Oh yeh!

school-gardens-resized-recyclabe-bottles-and-tire-gardens-2As impressive as all of the garden vignettes are at this school, the mini-gardens planted in the recyclable tires (along with the recyclable water  bottles) grab me the most. It is at moments like these when I think to myself that it’s  never too early to teach our children about the importance and appreciation of eating and enjoying fresh vegetables and fruits, of being surrounded by the beauty of nature and caring for our universe.

Any school gardening projects that you wish to share with us , please send your link so that all of us can get on your blog and check it out!

Fran Sorin
The 10th Anniversary Edition of Fran's classic book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, has recently been published. Updated with a new foreword by the renowned author, Larry Dossey, M.D., it has dozens of endorsements from renowned spiritual, gardening, and personal development authors and experts in their fields. A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology and One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, Fran is a renowned gardening expert, passionate gardener, deep ecologist, inspirational speaker, ordained interfaith minister, soul tending coach, and CBS Radio news contributor. See less Google+ | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

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VP March 24, 2009, 6:14 am

What a delightful discovery Fran!

Gardening in schools is a BIG topic here in the UK with all sorts of initiatives on the go. The RHS has a big campaign at the moment and there were gold medal winning gardens on this theme at both Chelsea and Hampton Court garden shows last year. After the shows the gardens were donated to schools in Dorset (as the main sponsor is located there) and one of these has a blog about it:

http://holytrinityenvironmentalgarden.blogspot.com/

I found the blog via Blotanical a while ago. Also a regular blogread of mine is the blog of Mrs Be (Carrots and Kids) who often blogs about her experiences about the school gardening club she started last year:

http://www.carrotsandkids.com/

This is her new website – last year’s entries can be found at:

http://carrotsandkids.blogspot.com/

VP-
Thanks so much for your information. It’s great to know that the UK is taking it seriously and that both Chelsea and Hampton Court had them as Gold Medal Winners. Holy Trinity Environmental Garden was great but Mrs Be of Carrots and Kids is phenomenal. What a find! And a mother of 5 on top of all of this! Fran

Darla March 24, 2009, 9:41 am

What a wonderful home away from home for the little ones!! Just fantastic.

Darla-
Agreed. Can you imagine as a child being able to walk into such a ‘playful’ naturalistic setting everyday? My hunch is that there are many more smiling kids at this pre-school when parents drop them off in the morning than there are at other pre-school who aren’t focused on gardening. Fran

Deb March 24, 2009, 10:26 am

Oh what a lovely post (found you via Technorati which is new to me).

Was feeling a bit down re my club as it’s numbers are down and only the children who are “into” gardening come but feel inspired by your post.

Deb-
If I lived closer to you, I’d round up a group of kids in my neighborhood and bring them to your gardening club. Got onto carrots and kids and fell in love with it. You’re a great writer, full of humor, doing terrific things with gardening and kids. Keep your spirits up. Everything in life has cycles that are beyond our control! Will make your blog one of my reads so that I can stay up to date on what’s happening with your gardening club! Best- Fran

Thanks also to VP for mentioning me, I was going to but you beat me to it! You’re a star (a very kind one!).

Catherine March 24, 2009, 10:28 am

That’s fantastic! It is so pretty and colorful. I’d love to try and get something started at my daughter’s elementary school. Unfortunately just letting their Brownie troop plant one hydrangea was a big ordeal to the school. Her teacher this year has her own little plot in front of the classroom though. My daughter was chosen to be in charge of it this spring and was very excited. I don’t think some people realize how much gardens and gardening can offer children. Maybe I should show them your blog entry? :)

Catherine,
Thanks for your note. Years ago, when my daughter was in elementary school, I convinced her 2nd grade teacher who happened to be into gardening to let me plant spring blooming bulbs with the class. That was a big first step. Then I began inviting elementary school classes over to my house for their end of the year ‘picnic’. At that time I had a huge wildflower meadow and veggie garden. The kids loved it. Although these are fleeting examples and the effects of gardening on humans (this includes children) has become more advanced, institutions still need a gentle but persistent push sometimes. It’s great that your daughter’s teacher has designated a plot outside in front of the classroom. Maybe you could offer to come into the class and work with them on some gardening projects….teachers love that kind of help from parents. It sounds like you’re ready to get involved. Keep me posted. Fran

kaela January 7, 2010, 5:41 pm

i like it but if your not trying to do a green garden use less plants other than that it cool i like it

Sue January 11, 2010, 10:34 am

Just to add to the school gardening links.

As an ex primary teacher and gardener/allotmenteer,I have a website specially created to help those gardening in schools

http://theschoolvegetablepatch.schools.officelive.com/default.aspx

Hope it is useful