7 Easy Steps to Start a School Garden

I speak to teachers every day who worry about their students suffering from obesity and diabetes due to poor nutrition- the need to educate youth about health and nutrition is more important than ever. Children who are hungry or poorly nourished do less well in school, both academically and behaviorally. Numerous studies demonstrate that school-based garden and nutrition education programs positively impact the adoption of healthy eating habits; children are more likely to try new fruits and vegetables if they grow them themselves!

Most schools in the U.S. do not have gardens or nutrition education as part of the curriculum. Many would like to build a garden but don’t have the resources or space. There is so much red tape around starting a school garden that it can seem daunting to get started! Well forget the red tape… Here are 7 easy steps to starting an outdoor garden classroom, no matter your size or budget!

1) Create a garden proposal

Present a proposal to the principal or administration. A proposal will also help you think through all aspects of planning for your garden and identify what kind of support and resources you will need in order to fund, build, and maintain your garden.  See this guide and template via School Garden Wizard.

2) Fundraise for your school garden

Community Fundraising
Fundraising for your garden is an important part of the process. Asking your community to give or raise money is a way to garner interest and instill a sense of ownership in the garden.

Garden Grants
There are also plenty of garden grants available. For a full list of garden grant directories, see www.woollyschoolgarden.org/fundraising-kit

Online Fundraising
To raise money for your garden using effective online tools and social media, try www.woollyschoolgarden.org or www.donorschoose.org

3) Build your school garden

Raised beds

Raised beds are great if you have the space. They are usually at least 12 inches deep. When choosing a length and a width, keep in mind that students will have to reach across the width of the bed to water, harvest, and weed the garden.

Tire gardens

Why not grow some non-edible beautiful flowers, or start a butterfly garden using donated tires? Tire gardens can be painted up to become living art! But careful- there are concerns over chemicals from the tires leeching into soil… so non-edibles only! Check out this how-to.

Grow vertically!
Vertical edible gardens don’t require you to give up any space and allow access for all individuals, including children with disability conditions.  Vertical gardens work great for any school, with or without land. Woolly School Gardens use any sunny wall or fence to create a vertical edible garden. You don’t even need a drill for a fence, just a few zip-ties!

*Tire Garden Photo courtesy of Mark Twain Elementary

 4) Integrate your garden in to your classroom using lessons

The key to making your school garden a successful part of your school is to integrate garden curriculum into the classroom. Learning truly comes alive in a school garden. From math to science, reading to nutrition, almost any topic can be taught in a garden! There are a number of online resources for school garden curriculum.

5) Maintain and monitor your school garden

While building, planting and harvesting are important, daily maintenance and studying incremental growth is just as important. Plants need water on a regular basis, so create a watering schedule. Soil should be checked to make sure it’s retaining the right amount of moisture. Instead of expensive built in irrigation, consider running a hose with a timer! A garden only thrives if it’s being properly cared for, and don’t forget weekends and holidays!

For even more maintenance how-to’s, check out Grow to Learn.

6) Watch your garden grow

Take photos!

7) … & Enjoy! 

The best way to enjoy the fresh produce from your garden is to…. eat it! That’s right! Integrate cooking/meal preparation in to the classroom (for ideas check out the Kitchen Kid, the culinary program at Santee Ed Complex, or RootDownLA!), and this is a crucial part of an edible schoolyard program. Eating the fresh produce will help kids make the connection from farm to table, from garden to tummy! And plus, kids who grow veggies, EAT veggies!