Playing To Win Universal School Gardens | Civil Eats

Playing To Win Universal School Gardens

When I started volunteering this winter as a garden science teacher with Washington Youth Garden, entering one 3rd-grade classroom every week to help instill knowledge and enthusiasm by the children for the wonders of nature, I had no idea that this experience would inspire me to initiate a national call for Universal School Gardens.

But when I witnessed the children’s smiles and eyes light up in the course of planting seeds and watching them sprout into seedlings and grow, my appreciation deepened for the many reasons why school gardens are gaining popularity and have an excellent track record for enhancing the educational learning and natural curiosity of young people. “Every student should be free to enjoy the incomparable thrill of tasting fresh healthy food that he or she had a direct hand in growing,” I thought, “and every school in America should sprout a garden!”

That’s why this March 2010, as spring fast approaches, I am asking you to join me in expressing support for the mission of “Good Food For All Kids: A Garden at Every School.” Simply by casting your vote for the principle of Universal School Gardens in the 2010 Ideas for Change in America contest sponsored by, you can help move this idea one important step closer from inspiration to reality.

After voting concludes on Friday, March 12th, the 10 most popular ideas will then be transformed into national grassroots social change campaigns. The staff at will reach out directly to relevant decision-makers to engage them on the winning ideas, and they will work with each winner to create a grassroots campaign and promote their idea nationwide. Already, “Good Food For All Kids: A Garden at Every School” was one of the top 3 ideas in the “Food and Agriculture” category in the first round. Now, we are playing to win the final round!

Although my vision for Universal School Gardens is ambitious, I believe that now is indeed the ideal moment for a new nationwide mobilization of Americans dedicated to the common purpose of achieving this delicious dream. We have extraordinary political momentum on our side. For example, the Obama administration has stated its commitment to putting an end to childhood hunger by 2015, and First Lady Michelle Obama recently launched her signature “Let’s Move” initiative aiming to combat the nation’s crisis of childhood obesity through strategies for healthier schools and better children’s fitness. Establishing sustainable food gardens at schools across America should be a key component of both of these efforts.

And we have a clear legacy of success to build on: Thousands of edible gardens have already been established at schools in every U.S. state. Educators have produced an abundance of garden-focused curricular standards in all subjects, from science and math to English and art, as well as the empirical evidence to demonstrate why school gardens are a fantastic educational tool and define best practices. A wealth of school gardening websites and resources is available to provide practical instruction.

After experiencing one of the coldest and toughest winters in United States history, with countless families struggling in the grip of a severe prolonged economic recession that has caused a rising tide of childhood hunger, this year many American children are anticipating spring with special fervor. When the snow is all gone and flowers once again begin to bloom, why not celebrate all across the country by planting a wave of new school gardens?

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Ultimately, committing to the realization of good food for all kids may be one of the best ways that we can rebuild local economies while proving that investment in the health, nutrition and future of America’s young people will no longer be sacrificed to the convenience of serving them the cheap, bland, uniform, unhealthy processed foods that have become the standard school menu. Only when each and every student has the unhindered opportunity to access the daily nourishment of healthy foods will we be able to honestly claim that no children are being left behind.

It is no longer a secret that the diet of America’s youth needs to radically improve. Hunger, bad nutrition and obesity among children are leading causes of health risks and often contribute to poor classroom performance. A study by Feeding America [PDF] asserts that “food insecurity and hunger, together with other correlates of poverty, can dramatically alter the architecture of children’s brains, making it impossible for them to fulfill their potential.” By planting a garden at every school in America, we will ensure that every child has the opportunity to benefit from eating more fresh healthy foods. Let’s make 2010 the year that the idea of universal school gardening takes off as a force for positive change in U.S. education!

Originally Published on DC Food For All

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Ethan Genauer is a volunteer with Washington Youth Garden, helping to bring garden science into DC classrooms. Before moving to DC in 2009, he lived in New Mexico for several years, where he worked with sustainable community farms and led activities to increase youth engagement with sustainable food systems. In addition to seeking your vote for school gardens in the contest at, Ethan is inviting folks to join the new “School Gardens Across America” group at Facebook. Read more >

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  1. efgee
    It seems like you are making a big, unexplained leap
    here, directly tying educational school gardens to food security and hunger relief. You do not illustrate the mechanism wherein the teaching kids about science and nutrition in outdoor garden classrooms directly relates, or indeed solves as it seems you are inferring, the problem of hunger and food insecurity. These school gardens do not generally feed the kids stomachs in any significant way, but rather their minds.
  2. Give a kid a veggie, and he will eat healthily for a day. Teach a kid to garden, and he will eat healthily for a lifetime.

    Growing their own food encourages kids to try and actually like vegetables. Kids who get excited about gardening are likely to take that excitement home and encourage their families to garden or to buy vegetables.

    Of course, finding vegetables in highly urban food deserts is not easy, but school gardens can help spawn interest in community gardens, farmers markets, rooftop gardens, etc.

    As for feeding kids stomachs? School gardens have to potential to augment cafeteria food and already feed the children who tend them via garden lunches and cooking aspects of garden education.

    Regardless of whether they actually stop hunger and food insecurity on their own, school gardens are crucial in making communities aware of and getting them excited about fresh, intensely local produce. It's the skills and revelations learned by the children who garden that have the potential to change their own family lives and the greater community.

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