School garden success is like anything else in life: it takes an understanding of how to grow people, plants and resources. To start a school garden, you will need a good site, great planning and communication, access to community resources, common sense, committed and motivated people, school support and enthusiastic children!
You will need a garden champion to work with committed and motivated people to come up with the garden’s mission and goals, location, logistics, tasks (defined and delegated), and maintenance and sustainability plans. Champions must be organized, aligned with the goals of the garden, engaged, and able to access people and funds from the community.
While developing a school garden plan for success, garden founders must provide for the practical use, safety and protection of the garden and its inhabitants. Working with school facility personnel is essential. Fence the garden; test, amend and plow its soil; prepare the beds; and provide access to it according to the plan. Keep in mind year-round needs, increased summer responsibilities, weeds, watering, harvesting, plant requirements, etc. Remember, start small; grow later.
To grow and sustain the garden, continually incorporate fresh ideas. Keep people motivated, and keep kids learning about nutrition, nature and physical activity. Team up with teachers to ensure lessons in the garden include math, science, language arts, art, physical exercise, history and culture. Even music can naturally be paired with gardening activities. Teach children about composting, seed saving and recycling.
Plan the autumn clean-up and spring preparation as special events after school to increase parent and volunteer participation. Fundraisers can be fun, student-run events in the garden like farmers markets and plant sales. Money raised sustains the garden, and donations from local farms and companies boost your sales. Use the garden as a venue for other school events to create a sense of pride for the children and the school and increase garden participation and sustainability. Be sure your marketing plan includes event promotion.
Most importantly, the garden must provide a positive experience. Children should enjoy a garden that is inviting, stimulating, accessible, safe and fun! After all, the garden is one of the best classrooms.
It is the perfect setting for children to learn to recognize fresh fruits and vegetables, explore food groups and healthy eating, see how food gets to the table firsthand, share and teach others, build character and strengthen relationships, experience team building, learn patience and love our Earth. By working in a garden, children develop positive attitudes towards, and a respect for, nature’s beauty and wonder, and they become a part of the solution to environmental issues.
Learning in the garden is what gardening is all about. If you need help, start with your school’s principal and staff. They can assist you with school and district resources, guidelines and requirements. Contact your local Cooperative Extension to receive more information about getting your school garden off of the ground.
Pamela Van Hoozer is a Master Gardener Volunteer with Cooperative Extension. For questions about gardening and landscaping in Nevada, contact a Master Gardener at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-336-0265, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.