School Gardens

Schools are increasingly recognized as important sites for health promotion.  In fact, the Ontario Ministry of Education promotes well-being as one of its four renewed goals for education.  School gardens are mentioned throughout the Ministry of Education’s “Foundations for a Healthy School” as a tool for promoting wellbeing. In order to understand how best to promote school gardens in Waterloo Region, a study was conducted with the Waterloo Region School Board to identify existing school gardens and develop best practices and recommendations for school gardens in Waterloo Region. The conclusion is that school gardens are recommended as a tool for well-being; improving academic outcomes, increasing physical activity, reducing stress and increasing a sense of school community. To find out more, please read Gardens for Healthy Schools: a scan of school gardens in Waterloo Region.

Provincially and nationally there is a school garden movement afoot. There are several initiatives that are building momentum, e.g., The Ontario Edible Education Network, Nutrients for life, Ministry of Agriculture’s local food funds and Farm to School Projects. British Columbia has made significant in-roads incorporating school gardens into their school boards, see Healthy Eating at School for more information.  GreenHeart Education is a primer on transformative education for sustainability; a resource for teachers with a passion for greening their schools and providing school garden education. Whole Kids Foundation provides school garden grants for edible educational garden programs. Farm to Cafeteria is a panCanadian organization whose goal is to have healthy local and sustainable food in all local institutions including schools.  They have a school food map and current resources and publications.

In the United States, school community gardens have been an “item” since Michelle Obama started one at the White House.  The State of California started a garden in every school programme – back by then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom has a database of teaching resources. Kidsgardening is a US based resource website with gardening toolboxes and teacher resources geared towards pre k - grades up to 8. New York City schools started a program, Grow to Learn: The Citywide School Gardens Initiative, based on the premise that school gardens have many benefits, including: changing eating habits; improving test scores; connecting children to the environment; fighting childhood obesity; promoting physical activity; and changing attitudes towards learning. 

Here is a sample of resources available for school gardens:

  1. A Guide to Growing Schools in Alberta - A manual that features the use of earthboxes for indoor growing along with useful learning guides for grades 3-8 and sample letters/templates
  2. Nutrients for Life, Nutrients for the Mind (Alberta) - Classroom materials that explore essential nutrients, properties of soil, plant-soil interactions, etc... for gr.3 -12
  3. School Garden Wizard - Walks you through the steps required to start a garden from building a team and making the case, to the actual construction of the garden. Also provides information on learning in the gardening, including curriculum connections and sample activities. 
  4. Kids Gardening - List of projects, activities, and themes to explore in the classroom. Also provides a garden registry to lookup school gardens across Canada and the U.S.
  5. Evergreen Learning Grounds - Guidebook on creating and maintaining food gardens that was created for schools to use in their greening projects. Evergreen also provides up to $2000 in funding to publicly funded schools and not-for-profit daycares.
  6. Jardinons a L’Ecole - provides a guide to building garden activities (website is in French but can be translated to English) 
  7. Healthy Schools BC - Provides a guide with specific learning outcomes from Science, Social Studies, and Health and Career Education from grades K-7 that clearly connect to a classroom or school community garden.
  8. UGA Extension - Provides garden-based lessons that are aligned to the educational standards for the State of Georgia. They are listed by grade level from K-8 and are further subdivided into topics including: earth science, life science, and physical science topics. 
  9. Seed to Plate - A six-lesson curriculum to promote healthy eating through increased awareness of how food is grown and prepared for use in grades two through eight. Produced by the Jones Valley Urban Farm.
  10. Life Lab - Provides several school garden resources including curriculum and online lessons and instructions on how to start and manage a garden.
  11. Gardens for Learning –  Resources for each step of managing a school garden put together by the California School Garden Network. 
  12. The Edible SchoolYard - An example of a successful school garden and culinary program in California.
  13. Lifecycles - Provides a list of answers to common questions that will come up when deciding to put in a garden.
  14. Setting Up and Running a School Garden - A booklet put out by the Food and Agriculture Organization on school gardening. Features horticultural and nutrition information as well.  However, some of the information is not relevant to the Canadian climate and please consider using food grade containers for growing edible plants as using old tires are not recommended. 
  15. Nutrition Tools for Schools - provides an action guide to learn how you can create a school garden and help students develop gardening skills.


photo of three children standing in a garden