How to Grow a School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachersby Arden Bucklin-Sporer, Rachel Pringle
“A school garden is a tremendously valuable tool to help young people turn book knowledge into real experience. This book is a must-have resource for anyone considering embarking on a youth gardening adventure.” —Mike Metallo, President, National Gardening Association In this groundbreaking resource, two school garden pioneers/b>
“A school garden is a tremendously valuable tool to help young people turn book knowledge into real experience. This book is a must-have resource for anyone considering embarking on a youth gardening adventure.” —Mike Metallo, President, National Gardening Association In this groundbreaking resource, two school garden pioneers offer parents, teachers, and school administrators everything they need to know to build school gardens and to develop the programs that support them. Today both schools and parents have a unique opportunity—and an increasing responsibility—to cultivate an awareness of our finite resources, to reinforce values of environmental stewardship, to help students understand concepts of nutrition and health, and to connect children to the natural world. What better way to do this than by engaging young people, their families, and teachers in the wondrous outdoor classroom that is their very own school garden? It's all here: developing the concept, planning, fund-raising, organizing, designing the space, preparing the site, working with parents and schools, teaching in the garden, planting, harvesting, and even cooking, with kid-friendly recipes and year-round activities. Packed with strategies, to-do lists, sample letters, detailed lesson plans, and tricks of the trade from decades of experience developing school garden programs for grades K–8, this hands-on approach will make school garden projects accessible, inexpensive, and sustainable.
“This book will be a well-thumbed resource in many school and public libraries. . . . Strongly recommended.” —Library Journal “This is my bible on starting a school garden.” —Huffington Post “Easy-to-read, informative, and visually pleasing—any parent or teacher considering a school garden will find a wealth of information in this book.” —American Gardener “[Introduces] the joys and benefits of digging in the dirt to kids who might not otherwise get the chance.” —Chicago Tribune “This terrific guide is filled with detailed, practical guidelines for organizing and running a school garden.” —SciTech Book News “Offers all the instruction necessary to plan for and maintain a school garden.” —Bookwatch “This book is a treasure trove of good advice and innovative ideas. From the usual ‘what to grow’ and ‘how to garden’ to using the garden as a teaching tool and creative starting point. . . . Fabulous resource for schools but also families who want to get more out of their patch of land.” —San Francisco Chronicle “The bounty of information is presented in ways that will generate excitement and provide inspiration. [An] excellent manual for teachers and parents.” —CoffeeMom “Fabulous resource for schools but also families who want to get more out of their patch of land.” —WhipUp.net “A practical, schematic guide to getting a school garden off the ground, with well-written advice for getting buy-in from a school’s administration, how to fundraise effectively, and even how to organize volunteers on the first day of garden-breaking.” —Grist “As a former early childhood educator and one who gardened with her students, let me say that I wish this book would have existed when I was in the classroom. How to Grow a School Garden takes away the guesswork and provides tip after tip from two women who have many ears of school garden experience under their belts…This book is a must-read for anyone (parent or teachers) interested in bringing gardens to their own school community.” —Rocky Mountain Land Library
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Read an Excerpt
Introduction A school garden is an outdoor classroom oasis, attracting countless organisms, each a rich opportunity to teach students about the complex and fascinating ecosystem that we are all a part of. School gardens provide on-site “field trip” opportunities for students, even in the most resource-deficient schools. School gardens may be as small as raised boxes on the asphalt play yard or planter boxes on a rooftop garden. In some cases, a school may have the space to take over an unused playing field or parking lot and turn it into a mini-farm with chickens and even goats or sheep. School gardens may be designed to help students learn about food and nutrition by planting edible crops, or lessons might focus on the local habitat by planting native plants. The common denominator of all school gardens, however, is that various classes utilize them as outdoor classrooms. The class may be planned as a standards-based lesson that charts the growth of recently planted fava bean plants and measures the change in growth over time. Or more typically, the focus of the class might veer unexpectedly toward pollination, due to the unanticipated arrival of a hummingbird nectaring in the pineapple sage. In both cases, school garden lessons are connected to education standards. It is no wonder that school gardens have been in existence for over a century and are presently regaining popular appeal. Historically, victory gardens and school gardens supported families in times of war by providing more calories. Since that early part of the twentieth century, our nutritional needs have clearly shifted—presently society has a surfeit of calories, but a tremendous need for better nutrition. The present generation of school age children is largely disconnected from agriculture, nutrition, and in many cases, alarmingly distant from the natural world. As parents, guardians, and citizens of this world, we look for ways to fix this complex problem. We know we cannot expect children to care about local, not to mention distant, environmental problems when they have no connection to their own. A school garden can begin the process of finding a solution to these complex problems. Connecting children to the natural world by growing food or building native habitat gardens may give them the capacity to care about their local ecology and perhaps even larger environmental issues. It has been a remarkable experience to witness how few urban children have a connection to their own ecosystems. More remarkable, however, is how quickly they are able to establish deep bonds with nature when they are given the opportunity. The old adage “getting your hands in the dirt” is literally what students do in a school garden, and often it is the first time they have done so. Once they are engaged in this simple act, worlds are suddenly opened up. Distinguishing between “dirt” and “dirty” takes some explaining but once permission is given to engage hands, or tools, with dirt, all sorts of notions about what peers may think evaporate. It can, of course, be washed off. There is a large gap between what public schools have and what they need. Parents have a great opportunity to help fill this gap. There are many ways to do this, but it usually boils down to either giving time or money to your children’s school. 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. Many parents are unsure of how to be involved in their child’s school and the school garden is an excellent interface, especially for parents who have recently arrived in this country and are excited to share their knowledge and particular ways of agriculture. 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. Cooking and eating from the garden might have been part of the daily life half a century ago, but it is a truly remarkable and novel experience for urban students now. A typical afternoon garden class might easily include a harvest party: students are called upon to select, harvest, wash, and cook a particular crop for their classmates. The class serves one another and sits down to eat together. While some might be surprised to see a group of second graders enjoying a snack of chopped chard sautéed in garlic and olive oil, the simple fact is that children will eat what they grow. Parents are always surprised to see their young children eating vegetables at school that they have had no luck serving at home. Some students become veritable vegetable snobs and will only eat freshly harvested baby lettuces and organic garlic, much to the amusement of all of us. School gardens are springing up everywhere from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Sidney, Australia. Each school garden is as different as the next, arising from the particular vision and efforts of students, parents, teachers, and community members. As varied as school gardens are, the organizational constructs that sustain them tend to evolve in a parallel fashion. The gardens we have grown to know in Texas, Massachusetts, Ontario, and California, and Devon, England, have remarkably similar strategies for sustainability, each having arrived at their particular formula by themselves. The plants and ecosystems will differ from place to place, however the underpinnings of support for an institutional garden remain similar everywhere. This book is an attempt to articulate that formula. We suggest that all notions of aesthetic fussiness and perfection be released, as they have no place in a school garden. Rows of carrots will be imperfect, wheelbarrows will tip, and dirt will fly. Plant enough to share with the inevitable critters that will take up residence (a little tolerance is a good thing) and know that when you aren’t looking, the tiny carrots will be plucked one after another in search for that one big one. Ask the students to paint the signs and label the beds; the more kid-centered your school garden is, the more the students will feel like kings in their kingdom. The overall appearance of the school garden should have a rambunctious, robust kind of beauty. This book is based on the assumption that if you are starting a garden, there is a basic understanding of horticulture or gardening. If you are lacking these skills, there are many opportunities through local master gardener programs, cooperative extensions, community college, or university classes to learn them. And remember not to be intimidated by lack of knowledge. The most useful thing a student can hear an adult say is “I don’t know the answer to your question, but let’s go find out.” In this book, we approach the management of a school garden much in the same way one might manage a school library. As each class has library time and cycles in and out each week, they will cycle through their school garden. Both these institutions are often stewarded by a parent or a part-time staff person. School gardens are, in fact, libraries full of life, mystery, and surprise.
Meet the Author
Arden Bucklin-Sporer is executive director of the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance, an advocacy organization for school gardens and outdoor classrooms. She is the director of educational gardens for the San Francisco Unified School District, and a founding partner of Bay Tree Design, Inc., a landscape architecture firm. Arden has worked with green schoolyards and public school gardens for over a decade, building an award-winning school garden program as a public school parent and working closely with school districts at the local, state and national level. Her interest in urban agriculture is fueled by her family's organic farm and vineyard in Sonoma County, CA. Arden lives in San Francisco and Sonoma with her husband and three mostly grown sons.
Rachel Kathleen Pringle is programs manager for the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance. She is also the urban school garden liaison for Occidental Arts & Ecology Center’s School Garden Teacher Training Program in Sonoma County, California. Rachel has worked in the environmental education field since moving to California in 2002. She has taught in a public school garden, integrating the curriculum into the outdoor classroom and planning events, and has created and led workshops for garden coordinators, parents, and community members while collaborating with local environmental organizations. Before earning a Master’s degree in Conservation Biology, Rachel raised cattle and kept a garden while growing up on a small farm in rural Maine.
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