You mentioned that these gardens are now often speaking with a unified voice; what is that voice saying?
ABS: We’re letting city and district officials know that we’re here—that this is a movement, and it’s organized. We’re also asking for funding, because green schoolyards are often under-resourced, so we’re looking for clever ways to support these programs.
RP: In general, we’re asking for a shift in the way people think about education. The recent Berkeley study is just the latest of several to show that garden-based learning really enhances traditional learning—math, science, language arts. So we’re asking for a shift in our ideas of what can happen in schools.
Is there a sense that a class that takes place outside the school buildings is peripheral?
ABS: Yes, there’s the idea that outside is for informal learning and inside is for formal learning. But you can do plenty of formal learning outside, and I think it’s more likely that a child who learns outside understands that learning goes on everywhere—rather than just turning it on when you’re in the classroom and off when you leave.
We’re also very concerned with place-based learning and making students aware of how their particular environment and ecology shape the garden. We want our kids to really know where they’re from, because we realize that if they haven’t taken care of or cared about something in their own sphere of influence, they’re less likely to care about broader environmental concerns.
Do you want to speak to some of the challenges people face when establishing a school garden?
ABS: For one, you have to think carefully about how to make it sustainable. Because no one really wants a garden that has fallen into disrepair and is causing problems for the school’s landscaping department. So there are challenges always in understanding what is an institutional garden that will go beyond your kids’ experience at the school and hopefully continue for decades. Resources and money to pay a garden educator are also often a challenge. You don’t have to have that, but it really does make a better program.