The Future, Second Life
Thu, 04 Oct 2012 10:25:12 PDT
For many years my main focus as a Master Gardener was working to help start 
 school gardens.  There are teachers out there who really want to do  this. 
 Some have lots of gardening experience, some none and many in  between.  
Every school I went to had different  space, support,dreams  and needs.  I 
have enjoyed them all.  Part of the fun was showing up  with lots of seeds and 
information and figuring out what they needed fast.   One school expected a 
football sized field of vegetables within a  month.  Sizing them down to a 
successful beginning was the  challenge.   Some have good support from the 
administration and some  have none.  Showing them how to tie gardening in 
with the school standards  was always important.  Many teachers assumed they 
had no time for gardening  until we showed them how to include reading, 
thinking, math and science into  gardening skills. This won them over.  Teachers 
have very little time  so you must be prepared with whatever they need and 
organized enough  to 'sell' your ideas to them in an hour, hour & 1/2 max.  I  
had a lot of experience working with kids and creating something from  
All of the teachers I worked with said that all of the children became  
equal in the garden.  They all worked hard, studied gardening skills  without 
realizing they were planning, doing math, reading or science in order to  get 
the seeds in the right place at the right time. The teachers said it cut  
down on discipline problems and the students learned to work  together.  Most 
of the time I was working with elementary schools.   Growing foods they 
could eat seemed to be what hooked the children on  gardening.  There was a 
study about waht age to teach gardening that showed  if a child learned to 
garden in the 2nd - 3rd grade, it would stick with  them.  I think the study was 
from UC Davis but I'm not sure.  
The garden was often responsible for bringing the community  together. Some 
schools actually grow enough vegetables to have a sale once  a week with a 
rotating schedule of parents from different grade levels being  allowed to 
purchase first.  This sale is run by the children who  are now learning 
business skills.  
I had lots of support in seeds and written material. Not a lot from other  
MG's since it was very unpredictable when a teacher would call asking for  
assistance - Now. Teachers always wanted help after school meaning you  were 
driving home in heavy traffic hours, few MG's wanted to volunteer  then.  
Those few who were willing were wonderful.  It wasn't a  project to schedule 
regular monthly convenient time slots for. 
I always gave teachers plenty of handouts such as when to  plant for warm 
season growing, cool season growing, how to attract beneficial's,  birds, 
etc. I used to regularly attend AG in the Classroom conferences and  I 
collected lots of ideas and information there.  I encouraged  teachers to attend 
these conferences and got many there.  I even got  teachers from snow climates 
to attend, build greenhouses and have successful  gardens.  I arranged for 
teachers to get their expenses paid as well  as a substitute teacher while 
they attended the AG in the classroom  conference..
Many if not most of the children carried their excitement home and  started 
gardens at home.  We can garden year round in CA.   I  always encouraged 
the teachers to promote the importance of adults who worked at  any form of 
gardening.  We always talked about the importance of growing  things for food, 
air quality, quality of life and more. This could  bring pride to more 
families as well as help when heavy work was needed.   There are many such 
workers in CA.  As a result, teachers told me they  were seeing parents who had 
never come to the school before.  
In planning school gardens, I encouraged  them to plant things  with fast 
results first and plant things that could be fun for the  children.  Fun 
includes things like tunnels to crawl through or eat your  way through, bean or 
pea teepees, pizza gardens, teapot gardens and  sunflower houses with vege
tables growing up the sunflowers.  I encouraged  them to plant pumpkins for 
the new kindergarten or first grade class coming in  the fall.
It works if the whole school "owns" the garden, not a group of  adults.  
The kids must do the work with assistance and guidance from a  teacher.  There 
are reports of less crime and vandalism in inner city  neighborhoods where 
the entire grade school has a garden.  This does take a  few years but it 
For a new school, having the older children dig and build raised beds, and  
the chores trickle down keeps everyone involved.  
These a few of my ideas, hope they help you come up with more.
Carolyn in Los Gatos CA

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