Educators who work with youth garden programs are quick to share the benefits they have observed, such as children who are transformed from hyperactive troublemakers in traditional classroom settings to eager and conscientious caretakers in the garden, and students who suddenly grasp connections between science and real life after participating in hands-on gardening experiences.
Jill Jones of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had watched with dismay as her inner-city neighborhood of Wellington Heights--once home to grand old houses and tree-lined streets--declined into falling-down buildings; trashy, empty lots; and a haven for drug dealers, arsonists, and vandals.
In many U.S. schools, statistics show that you’ll find children who are overweight and others wondering where their next meal will come from; many are not getting the right balance of nutrients in their diets or enough exercise. Research conducted at Texas A&M University supports the connection between kids’ food gardens and improved nutrition.
Almost every school vegetable garden hosts tomato plants, and the ability to grow a handsome tomato earns a gardener the title of "green thumb." Tomatoes are a delicious staple of American cuisine, which is fortunate considering that they provide important vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting antioxidants. With fresh tomatoes on sandwiches and burgers, and processed tomatoes in pizza, salsa, and catsup, it's hard to make it through a day without eating a tomato or tomato-based product!
You're ready to start raising funds and recruiting volunteers for your school garden project, and you need just one more thing to get you rolling: to hear the encouraging voices of peers who have succeeded. After all, if they could do it, so can you! Here are a few vignettes from teachers in our gardening network. We hope they'll inspire ideas for tapping in to local sources of funds and support.
Imagine growing food in outer space, feasting on fresh, leafy lettuce during cold winter months, or getting 1,000 pounds of tomatoes from one plant. These are some of the visions that have drawn horticulturists and other scientists to research and practice hydroponics -- or growing plants without soil.
We've heard from indoor gardening teachers, "All of our bean leaves are dropping off-what could be wrong?" or "Do you know any activities with flower bulbs that I can use with my first graders?" Master Gardeners are a national network of resource people who can help answer these types of questions and enrich your classroom gardening effort.
Sure they're excited and having fun, but how does classroom gardening improve students' science and problem solving skills, content understanding, and attitudes toward learning? We're all facing increasing national and local pressures to identify what students are really gaining from different instructional efforts. Although standardized paper-and-pencil-type tests have been the norm, more and more educators are recognizing the limitations of these tools. They are particularly inadequate for measuring gains from active, inquiry-oriented learning programs.
For several years, Roger Crowley's third grade students in Montpelier, VT, have become silly about sprouts. They've written sprout stories, developed sprout characters, and magnified sprouts to project on classroom walls. The sprout project germinated one year when a social studies unit on pioneers sparked student interest in sprouts as a food source. Another year, students grew enough sprouts to start a small business. They developed a logo and advertisements, and took orders for sprouts from the school cafeteria and a local deli.
"It's been wonderful having the Master Gardener's support. I had never done classroom gardening before. I've learned so much from her, and we're able to combine my teaching strategies with her horticultural knowledge to produce some really nice projects."
Kids Gardening and the National Gardening Association actively work with schools and communities across the country to provide educational resources and build gardens to promote health, wellness, and sustainability.