Addison Hutton can give more than one reason why she likes having a garden at her school.
“The edible garden tower is really fun. There’s some really good foods on the garden and when you combine them they’re really good all together,” she said.
Hutton is among the third-graders at Prairie View Elementary in Eden Prairie who have the opportunity to work with the school’s multiple gardens during the school year. The city of Eden Prairie partnered with the school in 2012 and built the school’s first edible garden with several garden beds that have grown different vegetables and herbs.
Within the last year the school has also added three indoor tower gardens and four cold frame gardens that extend the growing season, thanks to grant dollars and donations. Third-graders work on the gardens the most during school, said Adam Cooke, a third grade teacher.
“It builds this connection from the classroom to the so-called real world. It connects the dots and makes things easier for them to understand,” Cooke said. “I think it all comes down to getting the kids outside.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2015 Farm to School Census report said at least 198 school gardens are growing in Minnesota. The USDA surveyed 18,104 public, private and charter school districts nationwide during the 2013-14 school year for the report and about 70 percent of the districts participated. In Minnesota, 41 percent of districts participating in the survey indicated they have school gardens.
According to the report, the school garden movement seems to be growing nationally. Forty-four percent of districts surveyed by the census said they maintain gardens where children learn about how food grows.
“This represents an increase of 42 percent from previous farm-to-school census reports,” the report said.
Some school gardens have been in existence for several years while others have sprouted more recently. The types of gardens also vary from small indoor tower gardens to larger outdoor vegetable or ornamental gardens.
The Plymouth-based nonprofit Jeffers Foundation began awarding grants to Minnesota schools to start gardens about four years ago. Grants have been awarded to 42 schools and the organization plans to award grants to 20 more schools this year. The foundation’s program focuses on preschool through sixth-grade students, said Dar Fosse, a director on the foundation’s board.
The foundation has noticed that gardens have become increasingly popular since it started awarding grants.
“I think some schools have had school gardens for a long time. I think ... the interest came in with the new federal guidelines for eating,” Fosse said.
According to the Eden Prairie School District, three of its elementary schools (Prairie View, Cedar Ridge and Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion) have school gardens. Cedar Ridge and Eagle Heights both have tower gardens. Forest Hills and Oak Point elementary schools got grants to start tower gardens next year.
In District 112, Chaska Elementary has a flower garden and Bluff Creek Elementary, East Union Elementary and Integrated Arts Academy have vegetable gardens. Victoria Elementary plans to start a garden to grow vegetables, herbs and be an area for pollinator plants this year.
In the Minnetonka School District, some elementary schools including Clear Springs, Groveland and Minnewashta have tower gardens. Scenic Heights Elementary has had an ornamental garden for about 20 years. Minnetonka Middle School West’s ornamental garden started about 10 years ago and Minnetonka Middle School East’s vegetable garden started in 2011. Minnetonka High School’s ornamental and vegetable garden started about seven years ago, and is tended by biology students in the International Baccalaureate program and National Honor Society student members, according to the district.
Some school gardens are being started to provide healthy eating options for students, a topic which was covered during the March 4 Schoolyard Gardens Conference, hosted by the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the U of M’s Master Gardener volunteer program and the Schoolyard Garden Coalition. The event was attended by educators, community members and school administrators who came to learn more about different topics and issues related to school gardens.
The conference featured Michigan resident Betti Wiggins, who is responsible for school-based meal operations, labor and vendors for 143 schools in Wayne County, Michigan. Under her leadership, the Detroit School Garden Collaborative began in 2011 and supports 78 school-based gardens and a 4.5-acre school farm. She provided information about her experiences with using the gardens to provide healthy food options in school lunches, according to a news release.
Wiggins said the program utilizes volunteers, students and various funding sources in the community. Several public and private partnerships she’s formed have been key to the program’s success. She added that their model is only one way of getting fresh food into schools.
“More and more people are into changing the food system. They have to realize that you have to change the food system from the community up,” she said.
Cassie Janke, a registered nurse at Victoria Elementary in Victoria, said the school hopes to promote wellness and a variety of fresh produce and offer chances to observe nature with the garden.
“Our intention is to give students opportunities to taste test in the classroom, but eventually be incorporated into the school lunch menu. Students and staff across the grade levels will be involved with the garden, from planning, to planting, weeding and harvesting,” she said. “Our education goals are to provide an outdoor classroom/laboratory with hands-on learning opportunities linked to all curricular areas.”
Cooke said produce grown in Prairie View’s gardens has been used as snacks for kids and to make things in classes. Long term he would like to see food grown in Prairie View’s gardens be served to the whole school.
“This planting has opened it up for kids to snack. A lot of kids who don’t bring snacks will go and grab stuff off of the tower garden and eat that,” he said.
Fosse said the Jeffers Foundation grants’ focus is to encourage students to get outdoors, provide access to healthy foods and increase their interest in eating healthier. Many schools make their gardens part of their outdoor learning center because lessons in science, social studies and math can be taught with a garden.
“It’s not only used to produce food but to observe nature at work and to see insects and pollinators,” he said.
Last year, Carver resident Toni Dauwalter began helping with the garden at East Union Elementary in Carver, where her three children attend school. She said students are involved with planting and harvesting the garden and they also start seeds inside to grow plants for the garden. Families sign up to “adopt” the garden for a week during the summer and are in charge of watering it as well as harvesting the produce.
“It’s a great way for the students to learn where food comes from. There are tons of ways you can connect learning to the garden,” she said. “It’s authentic learning, it’s real world and gets the kids engaged.”
Cooke said they try to have students be involved in all parts of the process and they’re still learning how to get kids outside as much as possible. During the summer, the garden is tended by people involved with the city of Eden Prairie’s summer camps.