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Creating School Gardens that Last

skoug

Originally appears in the Spring 2014 issue

SIX YEARS BEFORE the Tomorrow River School District garden existed in greens and yellows and oranges, it existed in black and white. In 2006, a dedicated group of parents and teachers from the district—centered in Amherst, Wisconsin—drafted a school wellness policy identifying gardens as a strategy for implementing a comprehensive nutrition education program. The policy also included specific plans for installing the school garden within the school grounds master plan. Six years later, the district’s garden came to life.

This fall, Mrs. Doll’s first grade class could be found tiptoeing through a field of vines, hunting for pumpkins and winter squash. Accompanying the children was the district’s food service director—the pumpkin harvest was bountiful enough to cook and serve for lunch at Amherst’s K-12 school. The wellness policy also lays out space for fruit trees, and the school district is hoping to raise funds to hire a garden coordinator.

This tableaux may sound like an educator’s ultimate green fantasy, but it became a reality largely due to Amherst’s use of a wellness policy. Too often, school gardens are abandoned due to changes in staff, reduced funding, or shifting educational trends. Having a wellness policy to support the sustainability of a garden program not only increases the garden’s longevity, but helps set goals to monitor its progress.

The ever-increasing focus on childhood obesity and nutrition issues has helped launch school gardens into the forefront of the education movement. Gardens are consistently identified as a great way to increase children’s knowledge, preference, and consumption of fruit and vegetables.

However, it is important to recall that trends in education— even those supported by research—do not necessarily lead to widespread implementation. School gardens were widely popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s before fading into educational history in the 1920s. Wellness policies are an essential tool for helping the school gardens of the 21st century grow stronger not only now, but long into the future.

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Jennica Skoug and Beth Hanna work for the Wisconsin School Garden Initiative (WSGI), a project of Madison-based nonprofit Community GroundWorks. WSGI is a three-year project that aims to increase and improve school gardens throughout the state of Wisconsin by offering training, support, and resources to garden educators. They can be reached at www.WIschoolgardens.org or at wsgi@communitygroundworks.org.