School gardens are on the rise – but need community involvement

EDITOR’S NOTE: School gardens can be a great way to give students hands-on experience in science and agriculture. However, teachers need to consult with other professionals to learn the best and safest ways for pest management, weed management and composting.

In Georgia FACES

By Sharon Dowdy, University of Georgia

Planting gardens at schools is not a new concept. The school garden movement first took off in 1917 when the U.S. School Garden Army was created with the motto, “A garden for every child, every child in a garden.”

As of late, school gardens have experienced resurgence. A growing number of teachers are embracing school gardens to teach students much more than how to put a seed in the ground, care for it, watch it grow and enjoy the harvest provided by the plant.

Becky Griffin, community and school garden coordinator for University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, says school gardens are gaining momentum for several reasons, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education requirements.

“Schools can get a feather in their cap for using their school garden to meet the STEM certification,” Griffin said. “Teachers use their gardens to teach history by growing beans that (Meriwether) Lewis and (William) Clark brought back from their expedition, and they plant colonial gardens filled with crops from the time of George Washington. They also use school gardens to teach math. You use lots of division and recording to plant a garden. Some teachers have the students grow their crops in geometric shapes.”

English teachers use school gardens by reading a book, then planting crops or flowers that were mentioned in the book, Griffin said.

School gardens are an excellent educational tool, but they are also hard work. In Coweta County, Georgia, Griffin was called in to consult on a potential school garden before the soil was tilled and the seeds were planted.

“First, the school administration needs to be on board, then the teachers, the parents and community leaders,” she said. “If the garden is being planned and planted by just one teacher, it’s going to fail. In the summer and during breaks from school, you need volunteers to help weed and water and care for the garden.”

To help Georgia teachers grow gardens and successfully use them as teaching tools, UGA Extension and the UGA Center for Urban Agriculture offer school garden teacher training. In the summer of 2015, 60 teachers from 24 Georgia counties were trained at workshops help in Athens, Atlanta and Griffin, Georgia. They learned about crops that are in season during the school year, how to test garden soil before planting and how to control pests using as little pesticide as possible.

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