Schools find ways to make gardening classes flourish


MADISON, WI (AP) – Like gardening in general, school gardening has become extremely popular during the pandemic, with families and teachers saying its practical lessons can be applied to many subjects.

It can be difficult to find the expertise, manpower, and funding to maintain a school garden. But some experts and teachers are finding creative ways to make it work.

“Gardens are a great way to bring children out with a purpose. With gardens, children see a beginning, a middle and an end to their project, with tangible results,” says Susan Hobart, retired teacher at elementary school in Lake View. Elementary School in Madison, Wisconsin, which now oversees the school’s large garden with 12 raised beds.

“Gardens relax kids and give them a whole new perspective that they wouldn’t just sit at their desks,” she says.

Each spring, the school’s program grows plant seedlings through a training program at a nearby state prison. A church group comes during spring break to prepare the garden for the children to return, and during the summer a volunteer from AmeriCorps tends the garden.

“If we were to buy the plants, they would cost $ 3 each and we could never afford it,” says Hobart. “If you take a look at your connections and the community around you, then at all the larger networks, there are many creative ways to find help.”

Interest in school gardens increased dramatically when Michelle Obama planted a garden at the White House and invited school children to help, says Toby Adams, who runs the 3-acre edible academy at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. , where school children learn how to grow food. There has been another surge of interest since the start of the pandemic.

This photo released by the New York Botanical Garden shows school children learning how to grow food in the garden's 3-acre edible academy.  (The New York Botanical Garden via AP)

School gardens can teach hands-on classes in health, science, social studies, and even humanities and the arts.

“Fortunately, the big trend right now is that there are more and more organizations and support networks, especially regional networks, to help support school gardens,” Adams says. “And online learning has really exploded since the pandemic.”

“Giving kids the chance to go out and get their hands dirty and find worms, especially if their teachers are enthusiastic about it, is huge,” he says.

For schools without space for even a small garden, looking to botanical gardens and local parks can sometimes be the solution.

“We’re located in the Bronx, which is basically six story wall-to-wall apartment buildings. Space is limited and vandalism, and it’s hard to find a good place to gather 30 kids, let alone the issues. like access to water, ”Adams says.

“Gardening doesn’t have to be a big lot outside. It can be a container garden, a hydroponic garden – there are all kinds of gardens and ways to operate,” he says.

Hobart suggests finding a master gardener program, sometimes offered at universities, as graduates must devote a certain number of free working hours to gain certification.

“It took us 10 years to get here, but we did,” she says.

Nathan Larson, who heads the Cultivate Health Initiative, a collaborative project involving the University of Wisconsin-Madison and statewide partners to support Wisconsin school gardens, says his “aha” moment has come. when he realized that the group was supporting two gardens within 5 miles of each. the other, and neither of them knew the other existed.

“It became clear that teachers and parents involved in school gardens felt isolated and didn’t know where to turn for help,” says Larson, who wrote a free downloadable book, Teaching in Nature’s Classroom .

Nationally, two important resources for school gardens are the National Farm to School Network and the Network of School Garden Support Organizations.

There is also the National Children and Youth Garden Symposium, organized by the American Horticulture Society to train teachers and others. The symposium takes place each year in a different region of the country; for the past two years it has been held online.

Life Lab, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., Offers workshops for educators across the country on how to engage youth in gardens and farms. The Junior Master Gardener Program is a youth gardening program run by the Texas A&M University Cooperative Extension Network. Other resources for teachers and others include the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, the Edible Schoolyard Network, the Slow Food USA School Garden Network, and Big Green.

Ron Finley has been a staunch supporter of the transformative powers of teaching town children about seeds and cultivation. His non-profit Ron Finley project aims to “change the culture around food”.

Finley recalls being amazed as a child when he witnessed, as part of a class project at his south-central Los Angeles school, how “a seed literally destroys itself to become food”.

“Having a garden in a school is just as important as any other education,” says Finley. “The act of gardening teaches you where our food source comes from and teaches you to have respect for the soil. If children have respect for the soil, they have respect for themselves and respect for it. planet. Gardening should be a major one Gardening is not a hobby, it is a skill of life. I consider this to be one of the most valuable lessons of mankind. “

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