In a webinar on school gardening, presenter Kyla Van Deusen of the Captain Plant Foundation focuses on bridging the gap between locally grown foods and access to them in schools. Gardens are a hands-on experience that allows students to actively participate in the planting process and provides them with the knowledge of where their food actually comes from. Ms. Deusen mentions many ways to get students involved in gardening such as harvesting, taste testing in the classroom, and placing it in the cafeterias. She also mentioned different ways to connect a garden into school learning such as through after school programs, service learning, or project-based learning in the classroom. One example provided was of a school using spinach instead of green dye for “green eggs and ham” for Dr. Suess day. Big or small steps can make a difference, so a simple start can lead to big changes.
Outdoor and indoor gardens can both be options depending on the location of a school, so it is possible for any school to begin a garden program. Paying attention to seasonality and food safety are important factors to keep in mind no matter what kind of garden a school is implementing. Keeping track of when vegetables and plants are in season helps to ensure the crop is utilized, so Ms. Deusen recommends keeping a seasonal chart as a guide. Food safety includes not only with the food grown in the garden but personal hygiene and post-garden handling as well. Hand washing stations and making sure sick students are not involved in garden activities for a few days are just some of the recommendations for ensuring all food and students are safe. Proper food handling after harvesting is also important for student and food safety, such as making sure the food is cooled down then put in the refrigerator.
Practitioners can benefit from this information by assisting schools with the process of starting a garden. Many partnerships are available for these types of projects, including support from USDA or local grants, so practitioners can be the bridge that connects these partners with the schools. Health practitioners could also provide useful resources on proper food handling and safety to ensure schools understand all factors that play a role in a school garden. Starting a garden program is a team effort, so support from a practitioner in a school’s community is beneficial for success. For more information on gardening in schools, check out growing-gardens.org – manual and captainplanetfoundation.org.