School Gardens Grow a Lifetime's Worth of Skills School Gardens Grow a Lifetime's Worth of Skills

School Gardens Grow a Lifetime's Worth of Skills

by Ann Cooper

June 20, 2010


Martin Luther King Middle School is home to the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California. The grade levels at King are six, seven and eight—their abilities differ exponentially in the garden. Sixth graders are just beginning to be able to accomplish tasks in the garden with a modicum of supervision. They can use tools, plant, harvest and help to build structures in the garden—at Edible they can even harvest the freshly laid eggs. By the time students are at the end of middle school, they interact with the garden in a multi-disciplinary fashion, from math to science to the business of selling the garden’s harvest, they are at the age when they can be fully engaged in all aspects of gardening.

By high school, students can actively pursue all gardening and even many farming disciplines on their own. These young adults may be working in urban gardens growing food for themselves and their community, planning CSAs or experimenting with hybrid or open-pollinated varieties of vegetables and fruits. One of the organizations that has become a model for gardening and farming with older children is the Food Project based in Massachusetts. Begun in 1991, the Food Project has built a national reputation for engaging young people from diverse backgrounds in building a sustainable food system.  Each year they work with over a hundred teens and thousands of volunteers in growing over 250,000 pounds of food without chemical pesticides. This food is then distributed to local shelters, a CSA, farmer’s markets, harvest bags, their own value added products and even catering.  Seek out groups like this in your own area to help your children find their place with gardening and growing.

Not all children will have the opportunity to participate in school or community gardens, but there are other creative ways to introduce kids to growing food—one of these is container gardening. The containers can be anything from window boxes to large metal or ceramic “barrels,” or even just plain plastic buckets. It doesn’t matter which container you choose; the important thing is that you creatively engage children with growing food in non-traditional ways. You might have room on a windowsill or perhaps you have a hallway with floor to ceiling south facing windows. Your kitchen may have some light and space or an entry way might turn out to be the perfect place. City dwellers may have room on a fire escape or space in a room to add a grow light. Community and rooftop gardens are wonderful alternatives for urban children.

The important thing to remember is that no matter where you are, you and your child can share the experience of growing food. Children can enjoy growing herbs and plants in almost any environment and as long as there is enough light and warmth anything is possible.

Check out our project: Design a School Garden with LAUSD (and We'll Build It!)

Chef Ann Cooper is the Renegade Lunch Lady

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School Gardens Grow a Lifetime's Worth of Skills