Vegetable gardening is a great way to get kids outside and learning in nature! Not only do students learn how a plant grows, and where their food comes from, but all curriculum can be taught in the school vegetable garden. Area, volume, ecosystem, visual art, poetry, the possibilities are endless! Starting a vegetable garden at school can be a challenge. So here are some pointers to help you along your way.
- Involve the school community: Whether you are an engaged teacher, parent, after school educator or administrator it is crucial to get as many teachers on board as possible. Your vegetable garden can only be successful if lots of kids are using it as often as possible! Identify your allies and bring them on board as early as possible.
- Find a site: Your school vegetable garden needs to be in a sunny spot (at least 6 hours of sun per day), that is not used for other purposes. It should also be easy to access and near a water source. Often the front or sides of the school near the a door are good places to start looking!
- Financing: While school vegetable gardens are not very expensive, they do require materials. The initial setup will be more of an investment, then you will need seeds, plants, fertilizers and soil to top up every year. The school often has line items in the budget that can go towards a vegetable gardening project as long as you get good buy in from the director. Other good options are fundraising through parents committees. 1500$ for the first year will get you comfortably set up with a raised bed garden, some gardening materials (hose, shovels) and even a couple of planting workshops from your local urban agriculture experts!
- Garden build: We suggest planting with excellent soil, in a raised-bed vegetable garden. Trying to amend existing soil is hard work and results can be poor depending on the existing soil quality. Planting in a way that is easy to maintain and gets great results is the best way to keep your team motivated.
- Planting with kids: Kids love getting their hands dirty! One 12’ x 2’ vegetable garden per classroom gives each child a chance to plant. Having a mix of seeds and seedlings makes for lots of great learning. Starting a planting session talking about where food comes from and why vegetable gardening is important is a great way to introduce the garden project to each class. Start with one bed, and once you’ve proven to the school community what a great idea you had, you can add more beds in year 2!
- Maintaining the garden: The main tasks are weeding and watering. Check out our help section, and newsletter for lots of information and resources on specifics! Setting up a watering calendar for the classes can give a chance for all the students to be involved.
- What to do in the summer?: Keep it simple! In the first year of a school vegetable garden project it is often best to start small, and close the garden during the summer months. Once the vegetable garden has become a part of the culture of the school, you can start reaching out to summer camps, groups of engaged parents, or other community groups in your neighbourhood to partner with and keep the garden watered and weeded during the summer. At Urban Seedling, we have develop a great model to maximize your garden. We do a spring planting (late-April) of leafy greens and radish. You can then have a harvest party in June and Urban Seedling will come and close down the garden during the summer. In September, when the students return we have another planting workshop of leafy greens and radish. You then can have another even in the garden October and we come an close the garden for the winter. This model enable students to get the full experience of vegetable gardening without the extra work of maintaining and weeding over the summer.
- Levels of engagement: To get as many kids using the garden as possible, get teachers to sign on at their comfort level. You need at least one class to adopt each garden bed, and be responsible for weeding and watering. Other teachers can then be invited to teach parts of their curriculum in the the school vegetable garden as often as possible.
- Publicity: Having a vegetable garden looks good on the school. Let your community know with lots of pictures for the school website, school newsletters or other communications. The more parents, teachers and staff you can get involved and excited the better!
- Indoor option: Now that you’ve planted your school vegetable garden outside, you can add a seedling growing component in the classroom. We usually pitch this portion as an entrepreneurship project. With a shelving unit, fluorescent lighting and pots and trays you can set up a seedling growing station that can grow plants for your garden as well as seedlings and herbs to sell At 5$ per pot, you can make 1440$ every 8 weeks! This can finance the outdoor vegetable garden project, as well as other activities at the school. Students design packaging, sales, marketing and distribution!