Farm to School Works to Make Gardens Grow

School gardens can thrive in all types of environments – from Alaska to the Virgin Islands and everywhere in between. School gardens of all shapes and sizes offer a rich, multisensory learning laboratory that puts the natural world at children’s fingertips. Gardens can take the form of a planter box, raised bed, indoor window garden, or even a school farm.

The garden has allowed the students to have a hands-on approach to learning. It has brought ‘real world’ experiences into the classroom by allowing students to get their hands dirty. As a teacher it is exciting to see my students so engaged in learning.

Kailey Mione, Teacher, Gloucester, MA (quote courtesy of Food Corps)

School gardens are especially effective when:

  • Their use is linked to classroom curricula;
  • Lessons involve opportunities to taste, prepare, or eat garden produce;
  • Students are engaged in garden visits frequently and throughout the school year; and,
  • They are offered together with other school-wide farm to school activities such as family cooking nights, farm field trips, and taste tests.

The kids love eating the fresh fruits and veggies from the school garden.

They are proud to go through the lunch line and get items that they grew.

Pettis Co R-V, MO

Benefits of School Gardens

Gardening offers hands-on, experiential learning opportunities in a wide array of disciplines, including the natural and social sciences, math, language arts and nutrition. With regard to educational benefits, school gardens can:

  • Increase science achievement scores;
  • Contribute to communication of knowledge and emotions while developing skills that help kids be more successful in school; and,
  • Have a positive impact on student achievement and behavior.

Like a team sport or mascot, gardening can offer a symbolic locus of school pride and spirit. School gardens can:

  • Improve life skills, including working with groups and self-understanding; 
  • Improve social skills and behavior; and,
  • Instill appreciation and respect for nature that lasts into adulthood. 

There is also mounting evidence that active learning in less structured, participatory spaces like gardens is more likely to transform children’s food attitudes and habits than stand-alone classroom nutrition lessons, and that school gardening, especially when combined with a healthy lunch program or nutritional education, encourages more healthful food choices. Thus, school gardens can:

  • Improve nutrition knowledge and vegetable preferences;  
  • Increase fruit and vegetable consumption in adolescents; and,  
  • Encourage selection of healthier snacks. 

Source: North Carolina Cooperative Extension. For detailed information regarding the effectiveness of school gardens, see What Works for Health, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

School districts with gardens report engaging in the following garden-based activities:

USDA Support for School Gardens

Many USDA Farm to School grants have provided funding to plan, build, and maintain school garden infrastructure. Grants have also been used to fund school garden coordinators and provide training to teachers on garden curriculum integration. USDA’s Team Nutrition provides garden resources and no-cost materials that connect nutrition education to school gardens, including evidence-based curricula that can be used to integrate garden-based nutrition education lessons into core educational subjects.