Schoolyards: A Vast Resource. Growing Fruits and Vegetables, and Learning about Food at School

One evening I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Fed Up” and that was all it took to get the wheels spinning in my head about the foods we feed our children in school. I felt overwhelmed about the idea of battling the processed food industry for my own young children and I needed something I could do, because I couldn’t just sit back and accept the status quo. Knowing how closely nutrition and health are connected, I came up with the idea of starting an edible school garden in the elementary school that my children attended. I gathered encouragement and idea clarity from some buddies and drafted up a pitch for the school principal. My idea was to start small, with six raised beds and a small pumpkin patch.

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I focused on goals that I hoped to achieve through starting the garden: 1. Promote wellness by encouraging healthy eating habits, 2. Increase the connection between our children and whole, fresh foods, and 3. Foster a sense of environmental stewardship in the students.

Luckily, the school principal saw both the value and my passion for this project. He told me to find a team of people to help me and to find some money to make it happen. Um, okay. Well, determination cannot be underestimated. I presented my idea at a school PTA meeting, found some like-minded parents who were concerned about their children’s nutrition, and networked with some of my friends to join me. I asked our PTA for money, had a friend host a large Norwex party and donate the profits, and made an Amazon wish list that was emailed out to the school for trellises, garden gloves, and watering cans. Building the garden was a school community event, with parents and children helping to assemble the raised beds, dig out pathways, and put in the fence. And there it was! The vision had become a reality; it was so beautiful and authentic and collaborative.

The Mendota Garden is in its sixth year now and going strong. Through trial and learning, the group of volunteer parents has now settled in on set activities for each grade level to be involved in the garden from planting through to harvest, with an opportunity to see the cycle all the way through. Kindergarteners plant lettuce and radish seeds and then harvest what they grow and celebrate with a salad party. Many parents have reported that their five-year-olds request radishes from the grocery store after this experience! Other activities include making Stone Soup with a connection to the book, learning about the seed cycle, growing GIANT cabbages, honey taste testing with a focus on the importance of pollinators, pumpkin picking in the fall, and a school-wide farmer’s market.

Organization and flexibility have been key to the success and sustainability of the garden. Parents want to help because the activities are fun, meaningful, and often involve spending 45 minutes outdoors in the sunshine in the middle of a work day! And the students, they truly flourish when given the opportunity to dig in the soil and nurture a plant that can one day nurture them in return.”

—Story by Kirsten Ramirez