Champions for School Gardens

Champions for School Gardens

Everyone Can Help!

Kids at the Neighborhood House Garden water endangered seeds from the Ark of Taste catalog.

Kids at the Neighborhood House Garden water endangered vegetables from the Ark of Taste catalog.

Consumption of vegetables by children has declined over the last decade. Between 2007 and 2010, 90 percent of children ages 2 to 18 did not eat the recommended amount of veggies. Today, one in six children are considered obese, with food environments, food marketing, and education cited as contributing factors.

Now for some good news: School gardens and farm-to-school efforts are on the rise. Between 2006 and 2012, there was a 17 percent increase in public school gardening and farm programs, and a 16.7 percent increase with similar practices in private schools. By 2015, the Farm to School Census reported 42 percent of school districts in the U.S. participated in farm-related activities, and 16 percent plan to start farm-to-school programs. Researchers tell us that school garden programs have the potential to increase students’ willingness to eat vegetables, improve mental health, and enhance academic performance. However, there is no “one-best” garden curriculum in place to support the implementation, participation and execution of successful school garden programs. Instead, participating schools rely on a selection of varying resources and funding. Here’s what you can do to help our community champion the school garden movement:


Here in Milwaukee, we have some amazing organizations that benefit from helping hands to maintain the momentum. Victory Garden Initiative, Alice’s Garden, and Neighborhood House welcome volunteers to help with youth garden projects.


Securing funds to build garden beds, purchase supplies, and produce resources for education is often challenging. Every dollar counts! Non-profit garden education programs appreciate even the smallest donations.


Know a school garden in need of some plants? Purchasing and donating heirloom or endangered seeds or plants for a nearby school garden is a great way to help educators teach young students about biodiversity. (Look for Ark of Taste plants and other heirlooms at farmers’ markets, Plant Land, and Outpost Natural Foods locations.)

Read Below to Learn What Research Says About School Gardens


Garden-Based Learning Affects Nutrition, Mental Health, and Academics

In addition to increasing children’s knowledge of and access to fresh garden produce, education gardens can play an important role in nutrition by influencing a more produce-friendly home environment. A study in Minnesota by Heim and colleagues found that 88 percent of children participating in a 12-week summer camp with 20- to 30-minute garden sessions twice a week shared what they learned with their families. This study showed improved child- asking behavior for fruits and vegetables, leading to a healthier home environment. Improved social and emotional skills have also been noted from students participating in a gardening program in Colorado, where 46 percent of high-school garden participants reported feeling calm, at peace and relaxed after gardening, and 98 percent reported an improved ability to focus.

With a significant portion of cited programs taking place during summer or after-school, there may be concern that gardening programs during school hours take away from important academics. However, a 2015 review analyzed 12 garden programs taking place during school hours and found that students participating in school gardens either improved in math and/or science or remained the same as control groups in terms of academics.

Models for Success

Components such as complementary curriculum (e.g. cooking and nutrition education in the classroom) and adequate resources (e.g. horticulture specialists and lesson plans) are common parts of successful school garden programs. Evans and colleagues looked at four middle schools with garden-based interventions compared to a control group. The garden-based interventions included in-class lessons, farm-to-school vegetables served in the cafeteria, farmer visits to the school, taste-tests of garden vegetables, after-school garden groups, and field trips to farms. Researchers found that students who were exposed to two or more garden-based learning components had significant improvements in fruit and vegetable intake, as well as increased self-efficacy, motivation, and knowledge compared to the control group. This research suggests that adding a supplementary component to gardening sessions, such as in-class lessons regarding food production, healthy eating, and organic gardening may enhance the learning outcomes associated with school gardens.

Gibbs and colleagues paired cooking classes with garden programs, one of which included a 90-minute kitchen session to supplement the 45-minute garden lesson for children in grades 3 through 6. Children showed an increased willingness to try a variety of different foods. A similar outcome was discovered during the LA Sprouts study, which examined the effects of garden-based interventions on diet and obesity for fourth and fifth graders. The 12-week school-time intervention included a 45-minute cooking and nutrition class followed by a 45-minute gardening lesson at a community garden located two miles from the elementary school. The intervention group showed a 22 percent increase in fiber intake, compared to the 12 percent decrease in the control group, as well as a reduction in blood pressure and BMI among the overweight participants.

Effective models for school garden programs appear to have two things in common: multiple educational components and well-designed, integrated curriculum with room for customization. Slow Food USA offers a variety of resources for educators seeking garden-based curriculum.

Similar to a science lab or music room, school gardens are powerful learning tools with benefits reaching beyond scholastic outcomes. The above studies and more tell us school gardens can successfully be included within a standard school day—all while integrating core curriculum such as math and science as well as nutrition, cooking, and food systems.



  1. State of the Plate, 2015 Study on America’s Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables. Produce for Better Health Foundation Web site. Accessed May 20, 2016.
  1. Centers for Disease Control. Progress on children eating more fruit, not vegetables. The Centers for Disease Control Web site. Updated August 5, 2014. Accessed May 20, 2016.
  1. Centers for Disease Control. Childhood obesity causes and consequences. The Centers for Disease Control Web site. Updated June 19, 2015. Accessed May 20, 2016.
  1. Turner L, Chaloupka F. Slow progress in changing the school food environment: Nationally representative results from pubic and private elementary schools. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012; 112(9): 1380-1388. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.04.017.
  1. Farm to School Census. 2015 Farm to School Census Web site. Accessed June 7, 2016.
  1. Heim S, Bauer K, Stang J, Ireland M. Can a community-based intervention improve the home food environment? Parental perspectives of the influence of the delicious and nutritious garden. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2011; 43(2): 130-134. doi: 101016/j.jneb.2010.01.003.
  1. Chawla L, Keena K, Pevec I, Stanley E. Green schoolyards as havens from stress and resources for resilience in childhood and adolescence. Health Place. 2014. 28: 1-13.
  1. Berezowitz C, Yoder A, Schoeller D. School gardens enhance academic performance and dietary outcomes in children. J Sch Health. 2015. 85(8): 508-517.
  1. Selmer S, Luna M, Rye J. Insights into teachers’ experiences implementing garden-based learning: Characterizing the relationship between the teacher and curriculum. Teachers Coll Rec. 2015; 117 (9): 1-36.
  1. Evans A, Ranjit N, Rutledge R, et al. Exposure to multiple components of a garden-based intervention for middle school students increases fruit and vegetable consumption. Health Promot Pract. 2012; 13(5): 608-616. doi: 10.1177/1524839910390357.
  1. H. Gibbs L, Staiger P, Johnson B, et al. Expanding children’s food experiences: The impact of a school-based kitchen garden program. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2013; 45(2): 137-146.
  1. Davis J, Ventura E, Cook L, Gyllenhammer L, Gatto N. LA Sprouts: A gardening, nutrition, and cooking intervention for Latino youth improves diet and reduces obesity. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011; 111:1224-1230. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2011.05.009.
  1. Jaenke R, Collins C, Morgan P, et al. The impact of a school garden and cooking program on boys’ and girls’ fruit and vegetable preferences, taste rating, and intake. Health Educ Behav. 2012; 39(2): 131-141. doi: 10.1177/1090198111408301.
  1. Block K, Gibbs L, Staiger P, et al. Growing community: The impact of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program on the social and learning environment in primary schools. Health Educ Behav. 2012; 39(4): 419-432. doi: 10.1177/1090198111422937.
  1. Christian M, Evan C, Nykjaer C, Hancock N, Cade J. Evaluation of the impact of a school gardening intervention on children’s fruit and vegetable intake: A randomized controlled trial. Int J Behav Nutr Phy. 2014; 11:99. doi: 10.1186/s12966-014-0099-7.


This post was written by

You must be logged in to post a comment.