School Garden News – Ireland

Fruit of Their Own Endeavours

When children grow and pick their own fruit and veg, they will eat it – some schools have found.

Developing a vegetable plot at school to teach children about healthy eating may feel like a step too far for some people.

According to Ian McGrigor, project co-ordinator with Kerry Earth Education Project (Keep): “Most schools have a remarkably large amount of land. Schools tend to think they are resource poor, but this is a relatively cheap resource to tap into and expand the education process.”

While some schools may have the space, what about motivating children to get out in the rain and cold for some serious weeding and digging?

“There is a skill to working with children,” says McGrigor, “but they knuckle down and love it. I was recently working with a sixth class group, learning how to dig up sods. Next thing I knew, they were having a competition on who could dig up the biggest sod. Kids are highly imaginative and really throw themselves into the work.”

The Keep project has been working with schools, developing edible gardens for the past eight years, and the interest is growing. “We participated in Bloom in the Phoenix Park last summer and a couple of hundred teachers came up to discuss their school gardens,” says McGrigor. Keep is now working with An Bord Bia, producing a DVD on edible school gardens.

“I think there is generally an increased awareness of good food and food growing. An edible school garden has so many benefits for children: physical activity, learning to use their bodies in a functional way, and understanding healthy eating.

“Most of the children end up trying everything in the garden. We think nowadays children won’t touch healthy food, but when they have grown and picked it themselves, they certainly do.”

The fifth class pupils at St Anne’s Primary School in Fettercairn, Tallaght, Co Dublin, is planning a feast made from the food they will grow over the course of this year. Tony Fegan, director of Tallaght Community Arts, will oversee this initiative.

“We are developing a fruit and vegetable garden with the children, which begins with us asking them what they know about food growing and how they imagine the garden should look in a year’s time. As the year progresses, the children will start working with a chef, learning about nutrition and what foods go with what.”

Fegan has been involved in similar projects in England. “The feast isn’t exactly a five-course silver service meal,” he smiles, “it’s a bit more rustic than that.” Nonetheless, the children will cook and serve the food they have grown to 300 people. “In my experience, there are numerous benefits for children who are involved in food-growing projects.

“Many seem to find an incredible stillness working in the garden. Working with the soil, they learn things about themselves and their world. As a child, time moves slowly, one birthday to the next is an eternity. Nature also moves slowly, but with nature, it is easier to see the changes.”

The garden at St Anne’s is on half an acre, but edible school gardens are also possible in more restricted spaces. At Gaelscoil Choláiste Mhuire, on Parnell Square in Dublin’s inner city, the school yard is a tarmacadam car park.

“We desperately wanted to do something to brighten up the yard where the children play,” says Margaret Ralph, chairwoman of the parents committee. “So we did a fundraiser, bought seeds and pots, and got started in spring.”

As luck would have it, the school heating system changed, freeing up a large trough at the end of the yard.

“One day over the summer, we ordered in five tonnes of rubble and four tonnes of topsoil,” says Ralph. “It was one of those situations where you haven’t any choice about it, so we just got in there with shovels and rakes and filled the trough. A few days later, we transplanted the vegetables from the pots,” she says.

Is it worth the trouble?

“Messing around with mud and water, watching their own seeds grow – the hassle is well worth the fun the children have,” says Ralph.

All life stems from the earth

The impetus for the edible school garden at Coláiste Bride in Clondalkin in Dublin was a birthday gift. “Back in 1989, my daughter gave me a book called Turning the Tide , which literally turned my life around,” says Pat Harrington, music and gardening teacher.

“When I finished that book, I swore that every girl who passed through the school would be able to make a choice about growing or eating organic.”

Out in the heart of suburban west Dublin, Coláiste Bride is an all-girls, second-level school with 860 students. Realising Harrington’s vision was a challenge. “I had my eye on an acre of wasteland by the sports field and asked for permission to set up an organic garden and to incorporate organic gardening into the curriculum.

“The school manager was concerned about vandalism. She felt it would have to be fenced in. But we had no money, and certainly no money for fencing. So we began small, planting flowers around the trees on the avenue.”

But it wasn’t for nothing that Harrington recently won the Runner Bean Award for most determined school gardener.

“At that time, the M50 was being bored out, and one day, as I sat on the bus into town, I noticed all this fencing up around the roads by a company called Irish Fencing. I wrote to the company director on a Tuesday and the following Thursday, along he comes to the school and asks me where do I want my fencing.”

That was the first in a long line of letters looking for funding, sponsorship, labour, tools, horses for ploughing, even JCBs.

Help was usually forthcoming, but the going wasn’t easy.

“It was back-breaking work,” says Harrington. “I spent all my free time there digging, weeding and planting. For years there was no tap and I would lug across gallons of water in big plastic containers.”

The relentless persistence paid off, and today the acre of land is laid out in 12 beds, growing all kinds of fruit and vegetables.

Organic gardening is on the curriculum for First Years, Transition Years, and Leaving Cert Applied.

“It is a wonderful experience for the girls,” says Harrington. “They are out in the fresh air, learning how to work with the earth. They are introduced to the pleasure of healthy eating, and utterly surprise themselves by how much they enjoy vegetables they swear blind they hate.

“The difference between what they buy in the shops and the crunch of a juicy apple they have grown themselves in an organic garden amazes them,” she says.

“Setting up something like this can be a tough uphill battle, you need fire in your belly to keep going. But it is nourishing in every way for the students: they come to understand how everything and everyone in this earth is deeply connected.”

School Garden News – Alabama

Lessons from the garden: Students learn about science and giving
By Peggy Ussery

When asked if they’ve ever eaten collard or turnip greens, the group of fifth-graders raised their hands. Some event kept their hands up when asked if they liked them.

Only a few students in Shiela Armstrong’s class at Rehobeth Elementary School had not sampled the green vegetables typically served up in the South boiled soft with a ham hock for flavor. But Armstrong intended to rectify that within the next day.

The students have been tending a vegetable garden since October, nursing a collection of greens and herbs from seeds, watering them daily and watching them grow in compost just outside their classroom door. Along the way, they’ve learned about the science behind plants, lessons in math and have even written environmentally-inspired poetry. Photosynthesis, carbohydrates, the benefits of nitrogen in rain water — they’ve studied it all.

Now that the time has come to harvest their winter vegetables, they’ll learn another lesson — how to help those in need. The greens will be donated to a local soup kitchen.

Students said they’ve enjoyed the experience.

“It’s really worthwhile watching things grow,” 10-year-old Ryann Firestine said. “It’s better than going to the store and buying it. It’s more natural.”

Along with the turnip and collard greens, the students planted parsley, cilantro and basil. Unfortunately, colder temperatures recently killed the basil.

The garden taught the students responsibility and patience. Some students plan on planting vegetable gardens at home or already have with their parents. And they’ve gained a new appreciation for where their food comes from in the first place.

“I see how much care and patience that you have to have to take care of it,” said Ashley Fleissner, 10.

Armstrong plans to expand the garden program with spring vegetables. She came up with the idea for the garden during the summer. She was contemplating new, fun ways to reach students and hold their interest. Gardening and cooking were skills she learned as a child from grandparents.

“With all the cool things they have at home to do, school gets boring and learning gets boring,” Armstrong said.

But what Armstrong hopes the students will value most is the impact they can have on the lives of others by donating the vegetables for those in need.

“The main purpose was giving back to the community,” Armstrong said. “Being compassionate and thinking about others. Being occupied with the right kinds of things.”

Thinning Arugula

See this previous post for more about thinning.

School Garden News – California

School Garden Teach Kids
By Kathryn Nichols

Garden manager Tanja Roos walks through the greenhouse at Carmel Middle School and plucks a ripe cherry tomato from a bushy plant near the back door. She hands it to a visitor, a vivid taste of summer in a little red globe.

Growing and harvesting vegetables – it’s so simple that even a child can do it. Yet this elementary activity is a springboard to learning about science, the environment, nutrition, and the sweet sensation of working together for a common goal.

New school gardens are blooming in California’s Monterey County with almost every year. Teachers and administrators are finding that the garden can be woven into just about every aspect of the curriculum, even history, cultural studies, foreign languages, and English.

At Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Salinas, students often do creative writing and poetry projects in the garden. At All Saints Day School in Carmel Valley, kids hold an autumn feast each year to celebrate native American traditions of the harvest, using squash, corn and beans they’ve grown themselves. Not only that, but everyone loves being in the garden.

“After lunch, the kids had the choice of going to recess or working in the garden,” said Kim Derenzo, who up until recently was the garden manager/nutrition coordinator for Martin Luther King Academy. “It wasn’t unusual to have 40 to 60 students come out to work in the garden on any given day. And they really worked.”

“There’s nothing better than having kids out in the garden,” said Roos. “As much as we can get them involved, we do.”

School gardens aren’t a new concept – in fact, as early as 1909, Montessori was espousing gardening as a way to increase youngsters’ appreciation for nature, and to develop desirable traits like patience and responsibility.

But school gardens took on a new significance in the 1970s and 1980s, especially in the Bay Area, when famed Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters urged schools to grow their own produce and use it in cooking projects.

“Berkeley was the Mecca of school gardens,” said Roos, who grew up there and went on to managing Carmel Middle School’s remarkable garden, the Hilton Bialek Biological Sciences Habitat.

School gardens became even more desirable as a practical way to teach science skills, a green laboratory that needed only soil, seeds, sun and water.

As time went on, the schools also had the pressing need to teach children about nutrition, and there’s no better way to get kids to eat their vegetables – they are far more likely to try produce they’ve grown themselves.

Derenzo said she would often sample items with her students straight out of the garden – even raw beets and radishes. “They’d eat it up,” she said.

State and local grants became available for gardens, and groups like the California School Garden Network and the National Farm to School Network are now lending support in the forms of guides, curricula and information.

Enthusiastic parents, community members and staff have also been instrumental. Family members, teachers and college students worked side by side to develop Martin Luther King Academy’s garden a few years ago; “You’d see grandparents, parents, babies out there on work days,” recalls Derenzo.

At Carmel Middle School, turning 10 acres of open space into a garden was the dream of science teacher Craig Hohenberger and then-principal Carl Pallastrini, inspired by the garden and kitchen classroom established by Alice Waters in Berkeley.

Hohenberger started by taking his science classes outside in 2000, and planted an organic garden. Now it’s known as the Hilton Bialek Biological Sciences Habitat, named for a former Carmel School Board trustee who was an instrumental supporter of the garden. The Habitat currently includes a pond and small waterfall, a bee garden planted with native varieties to attract insects, a solar-powered greenhouse, a native plant nursery and an outdoor kitchen, as well as a stunningly beautiful one-acre vegetable garden; plans call for the building of a Green Education Center there in the near future.Every student at Carmel Middle School is involved in the Habitat in one way or another. If they’re not banding birds or helping with watershed restoration, they’re planting seeds in the greenhouse, making pizza in the wood-fired oven, or tossing vegetation on the compost heaps.

In 2006, the Habitat received the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, California’s top environmental honor, for its exceptional programs.

Not just public or elementary schools are going back to the garden. Preschool programs are offered at the garden run by Salinas Adult School, for instance. Community groups like the Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCA spend time at the Bialek Habitat. At All Saints, a private school in Carmel Valley, the garden area has expanded from five to 18 planter boxes and added a chicken coop last year, according to teacher Mandy Winston.

Winston directly teaches science to 24 fifth-graders and also rotates other classes, kindergarten through fourth, through the garden for a variety of programs.

“What always amazes them is being able to harvest something that grew from a seed they planted,” said Winston. “It’s like a light going on: ‘Hey, this is where it comes from!’ And they finally understand what part of the plant they’re eating.”

Fifth-graders at All Saints spend much of the school year learning about plant science concepts like photosynthesis and pollination; third-grade students have an agriculture unit that involves growing lettuce and having a salad party in honor of Monterey County’s most famous crop.

And research is discovering that garden-based learning does, indeed, pay off.

A 2005 study in Temple, Texas, found that third, fourth and fifth-grade students who participated in school gardening activities scored significantly higher on science achievement tests compared to kids who didn’t garden. There’s also evidence that children who get to try fresh vegetables develop better eating habits, and that through taking care of a garden, they learn a lifelong sense of stewardship and responsibility for the land.

“The passion our staff has for the garden is felt by the students,” said Roos. “Passion is addictive – it’s a magnet. It shows them this is an important thing to be doing. And the bigger picture is that this is about the health of our planet.”

The Child’s Food Garden

Thank you to Michael Levenston at for uncovering this gem, a digitized school book from School Garden Series, published in 1918. The uniforms may have changed, but much of the instruction is still valid.

The Child’s Food Garden, With a Few Suggestions for Flower Culture by Van Evrie Kilpatrick, 1918, Principal of the Carlisle School, New York City and assigned to supervision of School and Home Gardens. President of the School Garden Association of America. 65 pages. Includes many photos and illustrations

Every boy and every girl who has a garden at home, or who is given a plot in a school garden, ought to learn to do the work successfully. Yet, as the author has found, children, especially those who live in cities and towns, know little or nothing about producing anything from the soil, and since the teacher cannot always be present to direct the work, there is a danger that discouraging mistakes will be made.

The importance of encouraging our children in outdoor work with living plants is now recognized. It benefits the health, broadens the education, and gives a valuable training in industry and thrift. The great garden movement is sweeping over all America, and our present problem is to direct it and make it most profitable to the children in our schools and homes.

Link to Flip Book of the book here.

Link to PDF of the book here.

Herb Bed – Annuals, Biennials, and Perennials

We’re eight weeks into the school year and we’ve been harvesting since week one.  Only a year round school garden can make such a boast, true, but the real secret is our perennial herb bed. Whenever we’re in between seasons or waiting for something to mature there is always the herb bed. Since day 1, we’ve been harvesting: basil, sage, parsley, marjoram, rosemary, mint, thyme, oregano, and sorrel.  Other than basil, which is an annual, and parsley, which is a biennial, all are perennials.


Perennials are the classification of plants that go through repeated flowering and seed producing cycles before they die, or grow for several years, put out one seed production cycle, and then die.

Basil, which is currently seeding, is the only annual in the mint family. An annual completes the lifecycle (seed, growth, bloom, seed) in one year or one growing season and then dies. Most vegetables that we grow are annuals.

Biennials require two growing seasons or two years to complete their growing cycle. Swiss chard and beets are biennials.

Swiss Chard, Year 2

Beet going to seed

School Garden News – Oregon

Growing lunch
by Leslie Cole, The Oregonian

Schools embrace healthier kids with locally-grown foods

Mention school lunches, and it’s hard to find someone who’s not hungry for change.

Maybe you can’t see, smell or taste it just yet, but the shape of public school meals is shifting, in the Portland area and beyond.

Food costs are climbing, money is tight and results that resonate with families across the state will take time. But right now, the future of the school cafeteria looks promising.

Some recent developments:
• Two years after a splashy pilot program of scratch cooking and gardening began at Abernethy Elementary in Southeast Portland, Oregon has new positions in two state agencies dedicated to what’s known as “farm-to-school.”

Cory Schreiber in the Department of Agriculture and Joan Ottinger in the Department of Education are charged with connecting farmers with school cafeterias, encouraging students to eat more local fruits and vegetables, seeding a statewide school garden program and getting lessons about food into classrooms.

• Local purchasing has taken a big leap forward. More than 32percent of Oregon schools buy some of their food for school lunches from farmers and processors in their communities, according to an Oregon Department of Agriculture survey. Recently relaxed rules in the 2008 federal farm act encourage more local purchasing. School districts that buy more than a certain dollar amount must get bids on food purchases. For many years, it was impossible to cite a preference for local products (meaning Washington, Oregon and Northern California) when soliciting bids. Last year, that restriction was removed.

Despite other hurdles — and there are many — school food service directors are buying fresh fruits and vegetables from nearby farmers when they can, with little or no additional federal or state money in their pockets.

A yearlong grant from the Kaiser Permanente Community Foundation has given enough oomph to two public school districts — Portland and Gervais — to put not just locally grown produce on lunch trays, but also monthly hot entrees in Portland schools using Oregon products.
Doug BeghtelThe food that students grow end up in the cafeteria and could someday, school officials say, defray as much as 20 percent of the cafeteria’s produce costs.
“We want to use it to demonstrate what could be possible statewide,” says Deborah Kane, vice president of the food and farms program at Ecotrust, which supports farm-to-school activities around the West.

What’s missing is permanent funding. Oregon is one of only a handful of states that does not provide money for public school meals. School districts need more resources, say a coalition of food and public health activists working on farm-to-school issues, to create programs that reach every student.

Farm-to-school supporters are gearing up to ask for it: State Reps. Tina Kotek (D-Portland) and Brian Clem (D-Salem) plan to introduce legislation in 2009 requesting that the state match a portion of the federal dollars if districts purchase Oregon foods. If the bill is enacted, the state would kick in as much as 15 cents for every lunch and 7 cents for every breakfast to purchase foods produced, packaged or processed in Oregon. The proposed legislation also would provide up to 150 grants for complementary food- and garden-based education, up to $10,000 a school year for each of two years.

Meanwhile, some Oregonians aren’t waiting. School gardens are taking root in pockets around the state, helped along by community members, passionate teachers and parent volunteers. With grants and donations, a new culinary arts program is getting off the ground in the Centennial district, with the hope of introducing at-risk teens to a lifetime of more healthful eating.

Stay tuned. Meanwhile, sample a few stories of change, below.

Farm-to-school links:
Ecotrust (events, program overviews, assistance and legislative updates),

National Farm to School Program

Portland Public Schools’ Local Lunch program

Growing Gardens’ school garden resource page
(click on Resources, then School Gardens)

Bend/LaPine farm-to-school program
(click on Parents, Nutrition, Menus, and Farm to School)

Centennial Learning Center