How to Start a Teaching Garden

See how outdoor community and school projects across the country teach kids sustainability and beneficial life skills.

Students and teachers at Arabia Mountain High School in Georgia planted a learning garden as part of the Nature Works Everywhere partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the Captain Planet Foundation.

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As you plant your vegetable and flower gardens, many schools and communities across the country are doing the same thing—and they’re learning the importance of gardening in the development of life skills.

Before WWII and widespread urbanization, many U.S. public schools incorporated agricultural and horticultural lessons into everyday activities. That trend waned over the decades, but today interest in caring for the earth and growing food is returning to schools and communities, thanks in part to “learning gardens” facilitated by local governments, parents’ associations and through public-private partnerships.

Here are a just few examples of how learning gardens are making an impact:

The University of California offers elementary schools in its state free, downloadable learning garden curricula through its Center for Nutrition in Schools at UC Davis. The gardens are used to integrate science, mathematics, language arts, history, environmental studies, nutrition and health.

The Kitchen restaurant group in Boulder, Colorado developed a nonprofit foundation dedicated to building community through food called The Kitchen Community, which has built more than 150 learning gardens in schools and communities in the U.S. These gardens often double as playgrounds with edible treats to promote healthy eating habits.

The Nature Conservancy recently launched an initiative called the Nature Works Everywhere Garden at schools in multiple major cities. The participating learning institutions fold conservation and agricultural knowledge back into the core high school curricula.

Joshua Rogers teaches agro-science and horticulture, at Arabia Mountain High School near Atlanta, Georgia, where his students planted their first learning garden in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy’s Nature Works Everywhere and the Captain Planet Foundation in early April.

“This isn’t a club,” he says, pointing to a group of students fashioning an herb garden out of found boulders, potting soil and seedlings. “It’s curriculum-based resource management. These students not only learn how to sow and grow, they learn how to raise, propagate and regenerate their own plants.”

For the younger children, as served by The Kitchen Community’s gardens, an experience with growing and eating your own food can lead to a lifetime of better nutrition, especially for low-income families who are at higher risk for obesity and diabetes.

"I've supported traditional school garden programs for a long time but I wanted to see more impact with a higher rate of adoption. My team and I researched the issue to come-up with Learning Gardens to offer a scalable, safe, affordable and long-term solution for schools," said Kimbal Musk, co-founder and CEO of The Kitchen Community. "We were inspired to create an attractive outdoor classroom that offers an experiential play space with edible vegetables. We created Learning Gardens to be places kids want to play and teachers want to teach."

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