Commercial Gardening: School Gardens
There is an old saying that the future is in our children. Teachers and administrators for schools are perhaps one of the largest groups of unsung heroes who invest their time and energy into making sure every kid has the opportunity to grow into their potential. At Eco Garden Systems, we see this as an opportunity to entice each new class into the amazing world of gardening. After Senior Centers (remember, our Original Garden was first developed as an answer to a grandmother no longer being able to get down and crawl around the garden), we think that raised garden beds can have the largest positive impact in a school environment. Let’s explore school gardens at various age groups.
The great thing about gardening with kids is that the simplicity and complexity can be matched to the age of the students. A few thoughts from our work with schools on the different age groups and some building blocks at every level.
Kindergarten and Pre-K School Gardens
Simplicity is the key here – focus on things that kids find fascinating which is almost anything that they can watch change. A few things to consider:
- Chitting – this easy task puts ready to plant seeds in a damp paper towel for a few days to let the root begin to sprout. This simple exercise can create the fascination for younger kids to want to learn more.
- Where fresh vegetables come from – too many younger kids (especially as we become a more urban society) do not really know where food comes from. While this group is pretty young to completely understand, agriculture can become a learning template that easily expands into animals, colors, shapes, and nutrition.
- Taste Buds – One of the interesting things about younger kids is that they have more taste buds than adults (on average about twice as many) and this can create preferences for more bland food (chicken nuggets, hot dogs, mac and cheese). Fresh fruits and vegetables can often overwhelm young taste buds – so be aware. If teachers expose kids to fresh veggies early on (and if parents are cautious about passing on their vegetable biases) and eat fresh produce with the kids in their charge, this can pave the way for more fresh food in diets of all children – and set the stage for healthier lifestyles as they grow.
Grade School Gardens
More complex ideas can begin to be introduced. Time is a concept that this age group can now grasp – so exploring the time it takes to grow vegetables can be a great learning experience. Also, introducing the STEM pieces of gardening will also bear fruit here (an intentional pun…).
- Planning – working with the concept of results over time, teaching kids how long to sprout and how long to mature can be very beneficial. Math and Science get a quick intro…
- Responsibility – from daily monitoring to nutrients to watering to things as complex as summer duty to keep plants thriving. All of these are needed in the gardening world and can be included in any sort of curriculum. Check out the NEA’s gardening curriculum.
- Taste Testing – as palates begin to develop, working with different flavor profiles as the kids begin to progress towards 6thGrade can begin to explore the cooking arts. Introducing the various flavors we can taste (sweet, bitter, sour, salty, umami or savory) and how they come together may be a stretch – but we feel that the older the kids get, the more they will grasp this concept.
- Sharing – with bounty being an idea represented through gardening, we can begin to explore how to share with others less fortunate. This can be as simple as sharing with family or as complex as a dedicated program for the surrounding community or a designated “in need” group.
Middle School and High School Gardens
We are now ready for the more complex things in life and in gardening. While we can (and should) test the soil at all grade levels, this is when the science portion of that will come into play. A few things that can inspire more research and passion here:
- The Four Elements – Sun (light), Water (moisture), Oxygen, Soil and how they all interact to create the best possible growing environment. From how plants absorb moisture and nutrients to how soil density impacts growth to how too much water can impact herbs and veggies alike, this is where depth of learning can really occur.
- Teamwork – having observed a couple of schools where we have our gardens, getting teenagers to collaborate can sometimes be a challenge. The key here is to make sure everyone has some sort of accountability and teach the team how to hold others accountable. We will not pretend it is easy – but this is again about building habits and behaviors that can provide benefits for a lifetime.
- STEAM – gardening is a perfect blend of STEAM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, The Arts and Mathematics) as each one can come into play. At Eco Garden Systems, we embrace the technology and art balance – our Air Gap is something that sets us apart but the art of growing in an individual climate is different for everyone. Use this opportunity to blend capabilities and build holistic education programs.
College and Beyond
This is where gardening can get really interesting. The key is focus – take a smaller group and focus on a very specific process or outcome they want to test for and you can expand into the science of agriculture. Think this is not important? Check out Land O’Lakes group WinfieldUnited – this is the crop management arm of this Minnesota based co-op and they are all about the science. Find their website here: WinfieldUnited.
- Testing – college can really focus on proving new ideas or adjusting ideas to new learnings. We found this to be a great opportunity when Concordia University in St. Paul, MN tested our Original Garden – and have now built it into their ongoing curriculum. Check out their white paper here.
- Giving Back – with how easy it can be to garden, and with the bounty of test plots, many colleges seek to give back. In fact, an offshoot of our work with Concordia is that they will be using our Original Gardens across campus as a type of community garden – allowing everyone access to the fresh bounty the gardens produce.
- Pushing Boundaries – whether this is in class or personally, college is a time for exploration. Creating an environment where emerging minds can work towards a common purpose – gardening – can create the best type of understanding of how to find your place in the world. Think of all of the possible small businesses that can and have emerged from college minds – from Microsoft to Facebook to countless small businesses across the world. What if gardening and production received this type of breakthrough thinking? Who knows, we may be able to solve world hunger through exposure to the simple hobby of gardening.
There you have it – a journey through the school age years with gardening as a means to educate and develop the whole person. As Booker T. Washington indicated years ago and as Burgess Owens is focusing on today, four principles can emerge from a strong community – and schools are a great community!
- Head – education
- Heart – faith or a moral compass
- Hands – being industrious and self-reliant
- Home – creating your community – and whatever that may look like
We hope you have enjoyed this month’s focus on the Commercial side of the gardening business – school gardens. Remember, it is mainly about the Community – and the gardens they contain.