Celebrating a Garden Grant Winner
Impressed with a winning garden program at Washington School in New Jersey, National Gardening Association awarded the school a Youth Garden Grant in November 2010. This story highlights how a global teaching garden project, students, and community all grew and flourished in the following year. Visit the Kidsgardening grants page to learn about the variety of garden grants that NGA offers.
In 2009, students in grades K-2 at Washington School in New Jersey dug into gardening for the first time, and they reaped plenty. The worldwide unity of the Winter Olympic Games planted the seeds for this outstanding project. “The way our world comes together to contribute talent and resources for the games is like the way our students, teachers, and community members from Asian, Hispanic, Indian, and other countries came together to create and share a garden,” says parent Laura Stokes, co-chair of the school’s teaching garden committee. Laura, her co-chair Denise Belfiore, and other members suspected that raising crops from a host of countries could generate student curiosity and respect for various cultures and offer an enticing entry point for healthful eating. With support from a 2010 Youth Garden Grant, the Sharing a World Garden project was launched.
Digging In: Mapping the World
In the early spring, each teacher or small group chose a continent to focus on and in some cases, a specific county such as Japan. The committee chairs had worked with the principal, Dr. Rachelle Parker, to design a related curriculum; together with teachers, they used it to run a weekly garden session for each class or pair of classes.
The first stop for students was learning about their area’s native plants, animals, and foods, and examining a topographical map with features such as mountains, plains, and water. “We wanted each class to make its own collage map of its region or country,” says Laura. As they did so, the class discussed why certain native plants and food crops might be successful in different land areas. They even looked at seed packets and tried to surmise which crops might do best in which regions based on their needs for water, sunlight, and so on. Finally, students decorated the covers of their World Garden journals with plants, animals, foods, and other highlights of their regions.
- North America: corn, sunflowers, and pumpkins
- South America: peppers, tomatoes, potatoes,
- Europe: thyme (lemon and chocolate), sage, oregano, rosemary, strawberries
- Africa: watermelon, carrots, sweet potatoes
- Asia: bamboo, okra, sugar snap peas
“As the gardens grew, we discussed the ways that different cultures obtain food,” says Laura. “For instance, we talked about the fact that most of us go to the grocery store, but people in Africa may grow and harvest more of their own food; in parts of Asia, people may be more likely to go to farmers’ markets.” When educators next prompted students to share all the ways in which they get their own edibles – and to voice and document their preferences – students began to make connections to their family food patterns and habits. Students whose families originated in the places under study had a unique opportunity to shine as they described their traditional foods and meals.
Hosting a Celebration
In preparation for the fall celebration event, students reaped and washed their harvest, and then tasted, wrote about, and drew images of their bounty. Finally, they worked with volunteers to place all the items they’d gathered on tables set up in the garden. “Each area of interest had the students’ map, interesting facts they’d collected about the continents and cultures, and samples of raw foods,” says Laura. All participants had a chance to taste and smell foods from far-flung places.
“The students were most surprised by purple carrots from Africa, thyme that smelled like chocolate, and sweet potato sticks that they thought were carrots,” says Laura. The most surprising outcome, according to parent volunteers and teachers, was the students’ enthusiasm and enjoyment of healthful eating.
“The harvest helped to reinforce our healthy snack policy which mandates fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains for morning snack along with water or milk,” says Laura. In fact, garden participants are now responsible for packing their own healthy snacks for school. Thanks to their world garden, they now have a more enticing palette from which to choose!
How Kids – and Their Community – Grew
Yes, students learned a lot about food lifestyles and traditions in many parts of the world. They got to dig into math and writing skills and they learned that healthful foods can be good, too. But they also grew personally and socially in ways that matter. “The students gained a sense of pride in themselves and their community creation,” says Laura. “Each time one of us would walk into the garden, a student would call to us; in a few moments, the garden was full of students looking for discoveries.” They were also thrilled by Michelle Obama’s recognition; she’d responded to their letter and enclosed a White House kitchen recipe, to boot. And they were delighted when their garden won the 2010 Youth Garden Grant from Home Depot and the National Gardening Association. As important, says Laura, the young gardeners learned how to work as a community to create something useful and beautiful.
Laura offers a few words of advice to those who might be tempted to start a similar project. She says that it starts with feeling passionate, finding others who feel the same way, and “just doing it.” Laura also urges educators to identify community support up front. “Without the leadership and inspiration of our principal, the time given by our committee and volunteers, and donations from school families and others in the community, this would not have been possible.” And a final bit of wisdom: “Make sure to have a specific curriculum, but be ready and excited about the unrelated discoveries along the way. These were the most exciting parts of my time in the garden.”