Although running a school garden on top of an already intense teaching schedule can be daunting, seeing students’ personal growth as a result is enough to justify the many extra hours of work spent for the school garden. In New York City, we are fortunate to have support from Grow to Learn NYC, which connects local nonprofits and city agencies to create an amazing team that fosters the development of school gardens: NYC Parks Department’s GreenThumb provides garden workshops and donations of supplies (from student-sized tools to truckloads of soil and compost); the NYC Department of Education’s Office of SchoolFood supports a Garden to Café program; GrowNYC provides web resources and mini-grant opportunities; and all create an incredible network of fellow school and community gardeners. As the garden movement grows, organizations like these are becoming increasingly present across the United States, too; and supporting their efforts is key to gaining national—and worldwide—recognition for the value of school gardens.
As environmental crises incite worldwide action plans for sustainability, it’s time to work from the ground up, nurturing the future leaders of our world. Whether it is cultivated on acres of rural schoolyard space or in pots stationed on a small corner of concrete, a school garden gives our youth a chance to get connected to the planet—and offers possibilities for education that is truly alive.
Tips for starting a school garden project:
Start small and grow (literally!)
Work within the capacity of your resources. A small windowsill herb garden or a single raised bed is enough to sow the seeds for a larger garden project.
Find a location
Where will you garden? There are infinite possibilities, from a well-fertilized recess yard to a sunny corner of concrete.
Plant the idea
Formulate an action plan for start-up, including a timeline and budget. Research funding opportunities, such as grants and local in-kind donations.
Build a team of garden allies
School administration, cafeteria staff, custodians, parents, and neighbors are crucial links in a school garden project. Forging these connections throughout the planning and implementation, as opposed to just when you need something, builds the spirit of collaboration.
Cultivate students’ interest
Incorporate your garden efforts into relevant class curriculum or an after-school club to grow enthusiasm among students.
Learn by example
Consult with successful community gardens or local farmers—a wonderful starting point for inspiration.
Embrace the growing! Even a container of soggy soil or a tray of dried-up starts presents a rich learning opportunity.
Find a way to document your garden efforts and share with your school community. The more people know, the more interested they’ll be to get involved.
Play in the dirt!
Have fun with your school garden project, and your students will, too!