Does your district participate in farm to school activities? The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 formally established the Farm to School Program within the USDA to improve access to local foods in our school system. This USDA survey demonstrates that 42 percent of districts say they participate in farm to school activities – a solid number, but there’s room for much more involvement!
There are many elements that fall under the umbrella of “farm to school,” such as serving local foods in Summer meals, serving farm-fresh produce in your cafeteria salad bar, or planting a school garden for your students. Let’s learn more about the benefits of growing a school garden, and how to get started!
Benefits of Growing a School Garden
Before you lift a hoe or spade, think about what your goals are for planting a school garden. This toolkit from the USDA is a great resource.
Perhaps you want to incorporate more fresh produce into your students’ school lunches. Maybe you want to provide your students with the opportunity to learn more about fruit and vegetables, how they grow, when they are considered to be in-season, etc. What gardening and farming topics could you see introducing into your students’ curriculum within your district?
By planting your own food, your district might also aim to (a) reduce food waste, (b) lower overall school meal program costs, (c) increase participation in school meals, and (d) obtain greater community support for school meal programs.
Grow Your Garden: How to Get Started
Make sure that as a district, you devote planning and time to your future garden. Here are considerations for turning an empty plot into a lush, green, vibrant space!
- First, form your team. Who will be involved in the planning, procurement, operations, seeding, watering and harvesting? This is a wonderful learning opportunity for your students; invite them to become involved in growing their own food.
- Think about how you want the gardens to be used; what types of produce will you grow, and how much will you produce? Invite your students to voice which fruit and vegetables they want to plant and grow. Do you have land on the school property that can be used for your garden, or will you need a piece of land at a local community plot?
- It’s time to hit the library to stock up on gardening books! Or bring a local volunteer gardening or farming expert on board to help you with the layout and design of your plot. What tools are needed? What seeds did you decide to purchase, and from where? When do the seeds need to be planted? How much overall funding can you allot to your school garden? In addition, it is necessary to think about how many hours of attention your garden will require, who will tend to the garden and when.
Consider a Grant for Your School Garden
The USDA provides funding via its Farm to School grants on an annual basis, to be used for training, operations, planning, purchasing, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs. Sign up for the Farm to School e-newsletter to stay informed regarding application deadlines for the coming year.
Partner with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Lastly, what better way to make the most of your gardening initiative than by partnering with a dietitian in your community who can share his/her nutrition knowledge with you and your students. Invite them into the classroom to give a presentation on the fun ways they can eat fruits and veggies. Have them present to your community and lunchroom staff about how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your menu plan. Invite them to develop nutritious recipes that make use of the bounty you are growing in your garden.
Your My K12 Resource team is here to help, too! Reach out to us with any questions you have about farm to school and school gardens – we’re here to support your green thumb!