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Why and How to Start a School Garden at Your Child’s School

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Why and How to Start a School Garden
As the beginning of the school year approaches, I have been thinking a lot about different ways to get involved in my child’s school. I have so much respect and appreciation for the teachers and staff members at the school, and I really feel like the best way to show that is by getting involved in helping out at the school. I’m going to share my thoughts on how and why you should start a school garden, and it’s not just for the produce!
Why and How to Start a School Garden at Your Child's School
 
After attending a conference for the School Nutrition Association (SNA) in San Antonio, Texas in July, I feel so inspired about an innovative way to make a real difference at my child’s school – to start a school garden.
 
At the conference I saw photos of some schools where this really worked, and saw the joy and excitement that the children showed about growing their own healthy food. Check out the SNA’s Facebook page and view their album of photos from Alachua County School Gardens to get inspired! 

Why and How to Start a School Garden at Your Child's School

Why a School Garden? 

From the conference I learned that a school garden has so many benefits for the students of a school. An obvious one is increased fruit and veggie consumption. This is something that I have found to be true in my own family garden. When my kids help to grow their own fruits and vegetables they are so much more excited to eat them, then if I just brought them home from the store. Another benefit is the increase in physical activity…anyone who has ever pulled weeds will tell you how true that is! A few other benefits are that it can be a great science activity to help kids learn about plant life cycles and basic botany. It can also build friendships and social skills as classmates work together to create a garden. If done effectively, the school garden can even enrich the school lunch program by providing them with fresh, locally grown fruits and veggie that they can serve daily! Sounds amazing! 
Why and How to Start a School Garden at Your Child's School

How do I get one started? 

Getting a school garden started might sound like a huge undertaking (at least it did to me). However, there are a ton of wonderful resources available to help you make this a reality for your school, with very little time or money from one person. Follow these 3 steps to get a garden started at your school this year.
 
1. Make a plan– figure out the size of the garden that you want to add, and how you want to have the children participate in it. It might be best to start off small, with just a few planter boxes, and expand later. You can also start off by offering to run it as an after-school program where a small group of students work on it 1 or 2 hours per week, rather then trying to coordinate classroom time with all of the teachers. While in the planning stage be sure to check out the USDA School Garden Fact Sheet filled with tons of useful tips and advice on how to get a school garden started near you.
 
2. Talk About it– Once you have a plan, make an appointment to talk to your school’s administrator about it. Be open minded, and flexible as you work together to implement it in a way that will work for everyone. Share with the administrator what you have learned about the benefits of a school garden, and your plan for implementing it without needing a lot of extra work or money from the school. 
 
3. Get Funding and Help– You might be feeling that the cost and time needed to run this project is more than you can do alone (and you are probably right)! Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially as your school garden expands. Here are a few resources that I learned about at the School Nutrition Association conference (as well as a few that I brainstormed myself) that will allow you to share the work load.
Why and How to Start a School Garden at Your Child's School
 
* Other parents– gardens have an almost magical way of bringing people together! Ask other parents to help pitch in to help cover the cost and time needed to get your garden growing. Once you share with them all of the benefits of a school garden, it’s a project that many parents will be willing to support. 
 
* Local businesses– if the cost of supplies is holding you back, talk to local businesses and ask for donations. Places like local nurseries and home supply stores, might be great places to start, not only for physical donations, but also for some practical advice and know-how. 
Why and How to Start a School Garden at Your Child's School
 
* Grants– Your school garden could qualify for a grant under the USDA “Farm to School” program, which is designed to help school nutrition programs incorporate more local foods into their menus. Grant applications start in September, so now is a great time to start looking into it! For more information, check out their website and stay up-to-date on news and deadlines by signing up for their weekly email newsletter “the dirt”. 
Why and How to Start a School Garden at Your Child's School
 
Starting a school garden doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. Even a few small planter boxes can make a huge difference in the health, knowledge, and morale of the students in your community. Get inspired to start one today! 

About the author

Emily Buys

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