let’s put on a garden!

Source: posterpal.com via katie on Pinterest


I'm hatching a scheme. Maybe you guys can help? I'm thinking about starting a school garden at Oscar's elementary school. I think it would be so fun for the kids to plant and harvest a raised bed or two of herbs and vegetables. In my mind it's so easy, just some wood and dirt and seeds and kids having a great time learning that food doesn't have to come from the back of a truck. But then there's the flip side of my little daydream, reality. Dealing with school bureacracy, lack of support, no example to follow because no other school in district has a garden yet, no budget, watering a garden in the summer when no one is at school, raising and keeping faculty support, creating curriculum, finding and organzing volunteers, and every other hurdle I'm not even aware of yet. So I was wondering if you any of you awesome diy, public school going parents out there might have any advice for me?? Does your school have a garden, how'd it get started, who pays for it, who manages it, what do you grow? I'd be so grateful for any info anyone would have!

I've just started googling school gardening ventures too and I'll leave links to anything good I find in the comments. I did see this, grants from Whole Foods for school gardens. I'm so bummed I didn't think of this last year in time to apply for one of these.

34 thoughts on “let’s put on a garden!

  1. Shannon says:

    There is a whole book on setting up school gardens that I checked out of the library last year – it brings up all the beuracracy (and is a bit overwhelming!) but it’s a good place to start.

  2. Melissa says:

    My son’s elementary school just started a garden project in the last couple of years, and I believe it was initiated by a couple of teachers and is funded by donations (I’m sure most was out-of-pocket from the teachers). As an end-of-year gift we gave his teacher (one of the initiators) a gift certificate to a garden center to help support it.
    Maybe you could ask around and see if some of the teachers in his school would be willing to make this a cooperative project in their classes, and see if any parents would like to pitch in just a little to cover startup costs?
    Another option would be approaching local nurseries for donated materials in exchange for a small plaque noting their contribution? I know our preschool manages to get quite a bit of food and supplies donated each year for parties from grocery stores, big-box stores like BJs and Costco, etc. You might be able to get a little from here, a little from there, etc.
    I’m sure if even a small group of parents and teachers approached the school administration with a good plan they’d be willing to give it a try – local papers love to cover this stuff, too. It would only benefit them as an institution! Good luck; I hope you get the support to get this off the ground!

  3. Susan says:

    My mom is very active in Cool Joliet. It is a group dedicated to local environmental activities. They’ve started a community garden with raised beds on land donated by the University of St. Francis and have also started school gardens at a couple of the Joliet public schools. Shoot me an email if you’d like me to put you in touch with her. I live in Aurora in school district 204, and I know Gombert Elementary has a community garden, but it is not raised beds.

  4. Kathy says:

    My dad is a Master Gardener here in Texas and this is one of the things he does — goes around with other Master Gardeners to different schools and helps them plant vegetable gardens on the school grounds. It’s a free service for the schools but I’m not sure where the actual materials come from — parent donations, maybe? I do know that the kids maintain the gardens. If your city/county has an agricultural extension office, give them a call — they will be super happy to help! 4H clubs and scouting groups sometimes do stuff like this, too, as a service project.

  5. Sarah says:

    My daughter’s school (an environmental charter school in the city) does have one. They used one of the local universities (the co-op extension) for help. They also have a garden club in which parents and students volunteer together on the weekend to weed, water, plant, harvest. The garden is both a native plant garden and a vegetable garden. Each grade planted and took care of one vegetable. The gardening work fell under their Environmental Science class which is in addition to their regular science class. The parent group has raised money to put towards the garden. Next year they are going to try and better link the food program with the gardening efforts. Good luck at your school!

  6. monica klepac says:

    Our school district does stuff through the high school ag program to sell veggies. There might be a way to get high schoolers to help with the set up and maintenance. I did a butterfly garden when I taught 1st and 2nd grade. Biggest mistake was putting it far from the building, but it needed to be near trees. that meant hauling water far far far. and when summer came, it didnt get watered much at all. sorry, butterflies.
    I suggest growing fast growing spring things so the kids can enjoy them while in school. radishes, lettuces. even mint!

  7. Katherine says:

    My daughter’s elementary school does it as a “club” after school. It is led by one of the teachers with parent volunteers.
    Last year they were able to sell some extra vegetables after school to help with fundraising.

  8. Louise says:

    My daughter’s elementary school has an edible garden. We live in Oakland, CA- so are lucky to be able to grow things all year long. The garden is run by a small group of folks (1 teacher and 2-3 parents), who coordinate planting, scheduling, etc.. However, each class has a garden coordinator who takes the kids out to the garden, plans activities, etc. I am the coordinator for our first grade class. This year, we have planted, drawn garden maps, kept journals, and created windchimes to hang on a tree in the garden.
    The funding for our garden came through the PTA’s annual auction – one year a larger sum was raised for capital projects (raised beds, benches, etc). And, then I believe that they receive a certain amount from the PTA each year for plants, tools, etc.
    I would highly recommend doing it. A few weeks ago, I had 23 kids eating kale chips made from the kale we planted and picked – that was pretty great. Start small and the momentum will grow once people see what a great resource the garden can be!

  9. Elizabeth says:

    We have one at my son’s preschool and it was very helpful when getting it started to go through our city councilman, who has “office hours”. He is the one who found the funding and set it all up. The parents of the preschool volunteered and did most of the labor, and we donated some seeds as well, but the city will be paying for most of the supplies.
    At my son’s future school, the garden is “sponsored” by a local restaurant, and their name is all over it. Their kids go to the school. And parents have to volunteer 40 hours a year at the school so that’s who works in the garden.

  10. Pauline says:

    I’m not sure that you’d find this helpful but it was the starting point for our kitchen gardens at school. We’re lucky to have full home ec facilities and to be able to include produce as part of the curriculum.
    I use Stephanie Alexander’s book a lot because it includes a ton of kid- tested recipes.

  11. scentedsweetpeas says:

    Our school has a garden and the pre-school has an allotment. It is run on a rota but don’t count on too much help from lots of parents – it is usually the same ones that help every week. Make sure you ring round local garden centre for donations, it is amazing what they will give for a good cause.

  12. Tracy says:

    If your community has a community garden program, you could look into having a community garden started at your elementary school, with one plot reserved for the use of the school. This is what happened at my children’s elementary school a few years ago.

  13. christina says:

    I’m a Master Gardener in the Northeast and I’ve worked on establishing several school and community gardens. My advice?
    Start small, like one small raised bed small (no lumber/just piled up dirt works if you don’t have cash) and do simple quick growing things like lettuces, radishes and peas.
    Don’t try to keep it going over the first summer unless you get a really enthusiastic support crew.
    Keep it simple, keep it cheap, and keep it fun. If there is interest, you’ll spark it with that and then you can plan bigger and better.

  14. megan says:

    We have a greenhouse. A parent got the principal on board, a college class had a contest for the best greenhouse, materials were donated and it was built. There is now a Gardening Club run by the PTO. once a week a parent and university student volunteer, the kids line up and 8 kids go in at a time to do some work, switching out so everyone gets a chance. When the plants get big enough for planting, the kids bring them home.
    Each year the “club” starts out with lots of kids and by the end there is a smaller group of dedicated kids. No one signs up for the club, they just show up.
    Oh and cafeteria composting was started to support the greenhouse.

  15. CG says:

    Lincoln elementary school on Forest Ave in Evanston has a pretty extensive school garden. I wonder if they would have some advice for you.

  16. jennifer says:

    I’m not a parent, but I am a teacher at a school with three failed school gardens. People in the community tend to decide that our school needs a garden, they spend time building one up, and then no time maintaining it. I guess they have the expectation that teachers and students will do this.
    My suggestion to you would first be to see if this is something your school community is interested in– they may not be. If they aren’t, they will talk to you about something they are interested in working on that you could spearhead (if you like).
    The second suggestion is to make a plan about how the garden will be maintained and utilized throughout the school year and summer. Speak to teachers in the school and find those who are willing and able to commit time and effort into making gardening a regular, scheduled part of the class curriculum.
    My final suggestion is to make sure that you stay active with the garden, too! This has been our biggest issue– once the garden is built, it becomes the school’s problem! If you (or a small committee of parents) were the school gardeners, you could work with teachers to incorporate garden-based activities into the curriculum on a rotating schedule. Everyone uses it, everyone benefits, and no one holds all the responsibility.
    But those are just my suggestions, lowly public school teacher though I am.

  17. Becky says:

    The junior high here has a garden that is part of the curriculum that is quite successful – http://www.cityschoolyardgarden.org/kids-blog/at-buford/
    At my daughter’s elementary school, we are in the process of starting a garden. There is a group of parents working with the administration, including the principal and several teachers, so that it is included in the curriculum of every grade. We have approached local businesses and gotten many items we need donated, from compost to seeds and rain barrels. We had a workday scheduled for this morning, but the rain postponed it to next week. We are keeping it simple for the time being, but there is definitely a long term vision.

  18. Kathleen says:

    I second the comments about considering who will do long-term support and maintenance for the garden. If you have an active Master Gardeners program locally, they are usually a great resource for all aspects of a school garden. Other pre-existing organizations to possibly tap include community gardens, garden clubs, even local farmers (research Farm-to-School programs).
    It is also vital to have enthusiastic teachers willing to spearhead the project, in terms of integrating the gardens into existing school programs and curriculum. In my experience, many teachers don’t know where to start when a garden gets installed at their school, and someone needs to help them get started…otherwise, it ends up looking like too much work and the gardens end up not being used as intended.
    The neighboring community needs to be supportive, or at least neutral, as well…having to field complaints from the garden’s neighbors can put a major obstacle on the fun. The Edible Schoolyard is a good book resource.
    They are a lot of fun and extremely valuable and influential in so many ways. But they are also a gigantic workload that is better shared as widely as possible.

  19. hillary says:

    At my daughter’s school, each classroom has a raised bed. There is a gardening committee that helps with getting donated/purchased supplies (money from the PTO). The teachers incorporate gardening into the curriculum; my kindergartener has gardening time once or twice a week depending on the week. For example, they are studying India and they just took out the winter garden and replanted with flowers and herbs from India. They do a combination of starts and seeds so there is immediate gratification. In the fall they did a green salad bed and then during one of their cooking centers (they have cooking once or twice a week too) they made a salad and ate it. Some of the older classes garden more intensively and they sell their produce at a weekly school farmer’s market to benefit the PTO (families can also donate produce from their yards/gardens). This is a public school, by the way! I think teacher and parent buy-in goes a long way. Having a garden committee rather than a single person will ensure more longevity. Having seasonal parent work days to do bigger projects, replenish the soil, pull out old gardens to prepare the beds for kids to plant new stuff, etc. takes some pressure off the school. Good luck!

  20. Wendy says:

    There was a garden in my high school ages ago. I took a botany class and we cultivated the garden. It was started by my dear progressive teacher, Ms. Brewer. I don’t think it was maintained in the summer. Some problems were garden pests and students not taking care of garden tools. One of my favorite memories was growing swiss chard, stir frying it at home and enjoying the fruits of my labor.
    Good luck with your endeavor. It is well worth it.

  21. Aleta says:

    What a wonderful idea! As Pauline mentioned we are doing this in many Australian schools (see http://www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au/) as a result of Stephanie Alexander’s campaign against childhood obesity. My children are both involved in our school’s garden and they learn so much about healthy food and caring for the environment. There’s lots of support out there so go for it!

  22. Jenni says:

    I’ve established a butterfly garden at a school and it really required teacher buy-in to keep it maintained. We also partnered with local Master Gardeners, which really helped to maintain the garden – they were eager to help and share their knowledge and the 3rd graders loved having an expert they could ask anything.
    Another resource that might be useful is Smart Gardener, an online way to track the chores and needs of the garden:

  23. MK says:

    i’m in central va and we had a 1st grade teacher work with the pta last year. volunteers and pta donated supplies/labor for 4 raised veggie beds and 4 smaller herb gardens in raised beds. students plantes seeds and parent volunteers maintained gardens through the summer. starting seeds for spring now!
    good luck!

  24. Kristi says:

    I read this post a few days ago, and it just crossed my mind that maybe you could plant things in pots, take them home over the summer and return them the next fall. A bit tedious, but perhaps more likely to survive the summer.
    Another idea, start some greens in a sunny spot inside the building. They’ll do more growing while school is in session. Pepper plants also do well inside.

  25. Ana says:

    I am an elementary school teacher in Portugal/Europe. My school children had a dream of bringing butterflies into the school.
    The school director fenced two areas in the playground.
    We got a water source and a elderly man from the comunity who was not happy watching tv at home. (he actually does not interact with the children, but gives advice to the teachers and prepares the soil.)
    We gave each class a plot (only to the classes that were interested).
    One of the teachers is responsible to buy seeds and small plants.
    We share the products with the community. With the money people donate in exchange for the products we buy more seeds and with the profits we buy paint to paint the 1st grade classes.

  26. Jessica says:

    This is exactly what I’m trying to do at my kids’ school. They’re a city school (part of the Milwaukee Public School system) and I was thinking that we’d just start with sunflowers this year along the fence – each student can start a seed at school and transplant them into the soil, and we can have sponsor families – people to sign up for dates to come water them over the summer. Cheery and not too much work. But just WAIT until next year! I’ve got the ideas starting to roll. I think I need to start a notebook…

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