Recently, I had the privilege of visiting several school gardens in Yuma sponsored by Western Growers Foundation. I found Kindergartners at one school tending their strawberries; at another, third graders observed some new sprouts; elsewhere, special needs high school students were helping to install a watering system. It quickly became very clear to me that edible school gardens can teach so many lessons and positively impact people of any age.
I asked students questions about their garden experiences, observed their actions, and listened as teachers told countless inspiring stories. One teacher shared an experience about an autistic student that had never spoken to her before: while measuring some leaves the student noticed they had been eaten by insects and he started talking all about what was going on with the plant; the teacher was astounded. Edible school gardens have demonstrated over and over again the ability to transcend all types of learning styles and reach children in different ways. One child who had not been as successful in the classroom was able to fully understand the concept of drip irrigation after being shown just one time and immediately began helping other students. The hands-on garden approach is an incredible way for children to experience concepts that they have learned about, making edible school gardens a living classroom.
In addition to the many ways edible school gardens are able to help teach traditional curricula, some of which are listed in the accompanying box, many teachers also noticed an increase in critical social skill development — children taking pride in their work, boosted self-esteem, and open sharing of stories about their garden’s progress. One teacher got goose bumps as she told a story of how discussing the gardens with their parents at home has helped students make a new and special connection with their parents.
Stories like these remind us of why we are so passionate about our mission and the importance of staying connected. This is one reason Western Growers Foundation is becoming more sophisticated in the way we collect information about gardens we have funded. Not only can we make notes through a mobile application while on site, but we can also track and follow up with how schools are doing and the impact the garden is having on their students.
While visiting several gardens in the same area, we were also able to make supply connections in a traditional way. One school was in need of soil, and on another school visit they were asking for tips on how to get rid of extra soil because they did not have any more room to store it. Naturally, we were able to say, “Well it just so happens we know a school nearby that would love to take the extra soil off your hands.” While this is but one small example of how valuable community connections with other gardens can be, it is a fostering principle behind our new website www.csgn.org.
Garden Subject Learning Examples:
• Scientific Method
• Communication Skills
Csgn.org is Western Growers Foundation’s Collective School Garden Network website, a place designed to enhance state and regional connections and sharing. Whether you are pondering starting an edible school garden or sustaining one, the website walks you through the steps and provides valuable resources for all stages. Additionally, we have developed a much more user friendly grant tool. This website will support both California and Arizona edible school garden efforts. Take a look. We welcome your comments.
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