Gardening has been an integral part of the lives of many of our ancestors and past generations, but today most of us source our food from major supermarkets and spend little time thinking about where our food comes from or how it was grown. And yet, despite being passed on to our children, today’s children are increasingly isolated from the land and its food. Schools are trying to change that. It is time to establish a nationwide school garden program that teaches children how to grow food and reconnect people with their roots.
The Cape Cod Waldorf School has a 24 by 48 meter terraced house on its school grounds where children and adults can plant and harvest plants such as carrots, spinach, kale and other vegetables. The Reifenhaus devotes half of its space to open areas where students and teachers can gather and learn. Every year, the school’s students dedicate themselves to the work on the Reifenhaus, and third-graders and farmers are assigned tasks such as converting leftover food into compost for the school’s composter. The program teaches students about the process needed for seeds to become ripe fruits and vegetables, which in turn teaches them about the benefits of growing their own food.
A great example of a school garden comes from the UK at Charlton Manor Primary School in London. In summer, the school offers a family garden week, where students work with their parents in the garden. New in the project is a worm bed in the Reifenhaus to produce vermicompost. This school garden was launched by the school’s headmaster, Tim Baker, after seeing news that today’s children lack knowledge of where their food comes from.
He decided to put the unused land on the school property to good use and create a garden. Baker saw the garden as an opportunity for children to learn outdoors in a real way and to give them an understanding of where their food comes from and how important it is to eat fruit and vegetables. He also wanted to use the garden to teach other topics, including the life cycle of flowers and plants, pollination and adaptation, creative writing and writing reports. He believes there are many subjects that can be taught in the garden, which can increase student activity and encourage teamwork, he says.
In his eyes, it was an opportunity to help students develop a sense of responsibility. Four years later, the gardening program had become a central part of the school curriculum. He said there was a behavioral element to the program. Staff feared that the behavioral problems would get worse if the classroom was taken away from them, but as soon as they started using the garden, they noticed marked behavioral changes in their most difficult pupils.
The children of the school use the garden as a backdrop for creative projects and math lessons. In the math lesson, the children set flower beds instead of relying on small-format drawings in the textbook. We create charts and diagrams to measure sunflower sprouting, record weather information from weather stations and map their effects.
The products from the garden are sold in the school shop, which is run by students on weekdays. Proceeds from the sale will help finance the garden and allow students to buy tools and supplies as needed.
Baker has seen the remarkably positive impact of the garden on his school and community. The garden has transformed the school and provided wonderful learning opportunities for the children. It has also brought the Community together in an enormous way and will continue to develop.
At a time when children spend more time with the screen and childhood obesity is increasing, school gardens are encouraging physical activity and healthy eating. There are more than five thousand school gardens in the United States. The benefits of these gardens are countless.
Studies have shown that areas with greater access to affordable products and higher costs for fast food are associated with lower BMIs. Many experts agree that schools can play a role in changing children’s perspective on food and giving them access to healthier choices. “Every time children enter a cafeteria, they pick up messages about what is healthy and what a meal should look like,” says Bettina Elias-Siegal, an expert on child nutrition policy.
We have learned that memorizing is no longer the correct way to teach math or English to children, and the same is true of nutritional education. Curt Ellis is CEO of FoodCorps, an organization that trains service members in 350 schools around the country to hold gardening and cooking classes to promote a school-wide culture of health and nutrition. He says that the traditional way is taught nutrition is not creating the type of healthy eating culture that children need. Nutrition education looks in many schools across the country like an authority figure standing outside the classroom pointing to government posters on the wall, he explains.
School gardens give students the chance to taste and eat healthy foods, grow fruits and vegetables and develop team spirit. They also promote better nutrition by teaching children the value of working with the people who grow our food on a daily basis. Gardens provide an exciting, hands-on learning environment. Children are involved in real life activities and encouraged to explore and think.
They can help children change their eating habits, build emotional links to the food they grow up with, and make them more open to trying new dishes. Tim Baker has experienced these benefits more than once at his school. His garden, in the form of a wooded plot of land, a handful of makeshift containers and a hanging basket on a windowsill, is considered an indispensable learning tool for schools.