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When schools start thinking about greening up their grounds, planting shade trees, windbreaks and wildlife habitat is often high on the agenda. Trees take a long time to grow and by the time there is a perceptible difference in the size of the trees the children will have graduated. Edible gardens help children learn about plant growth. Growing vegetables, herbs and flowers from seed and observing and recording their growth through to maturity in just one season can help children understand the development and needs of plants that take much longer to mature. While growing food for humans, children can also learn about how animals depend on plants for food.
Cities used to be able to feed themselves by growing their own food on the agricultural lands around the city limits. As our ability to transport food huge distances has grown, we have becoame increasingly less self-sufficient in food. The average mouthful of food Canadians eat has travelled about 2,000 kilometres.
Vegetable and fruit gardening at school is an effective way of introducing young people to the impacts of our present global food production and delivery systems including: the depletion of ecologically-productive lands for the purpose of growing cash crops, pesticide, energy and water use, transportation, climate change, international trade routes, nutrition, global economics and social justice issues.
Climate change connections can be made concerning the loss of carbon sink lands such as wetlands and forests which help to offset CO2 emissions, the use of fossil fuels and pesticides when transporting food long distances, and the manufacture, use and disposal of packaging.
School grounds edible gardens can teach children about growing their own food and the importance of eating well. Local gardeners can be asked to share their expertise and others in the community can be encouraged to grow gardens of their own.
The Berkeley Unified School Board has a food policy which "recognizes the important connection between a healthy diet and a student's ability to learn effectively and achieve high standards in school. The Board also recognizes the school's role, as part of a larger community, to promote family health, sustainable agriculture and environmental restoration". The implementation of the policy includes establishing a school garden in every school and giving students the opportunity to plant, harvest, prepare, cook and eat the food they have grown. Further information may be obtained by contacting:
Edible gardens are a good way to make connections between organically-grown produce and human health. Food that has to be transported around the world has many chemicals added to it to enable it to survive the journey. The nutritional value of fresh produce decreases the longer the time between plant and table.
Growing food at school can promote healthier eating habits among children and increase their physical exercise out of doors.
A number of school boards in California with breakfast programmes now have policies requiring that all food be organic and that 50% of the produce be grown on school grounds.
Community gardens in urban areas are becoming increasingly more popular as the economic, social and environmental benefits become more apparent. Some municipalities are creating community garden spaces in poorer neighbourhoods to enable people with low income to supplement their diets by growing their own food.
Your school grounds greening projects can be put to work to promote what your school is doing, to raise money for additional projects.
There is no shortage of resources with curriculum activities on organic indoor and outdoor gardening, school gardens, international issues, composting, plant growth, sustainability, health and nutrition and cooking. Go to Resources.
There are endless opportunities for integrating edible gardens into the curriculum. For example, the majority of common food plants were discovered and transported from one country to another during explorations, invasions, etc. History and geography can be taught through tracking the journeys of the plants from their place of origin to where they are now grown in countries all over the world. Food plants can be grown to represent students' countries of origin in multi-cultural gardens. Children can weigh, for example, a teaspoon of seeds, count them and estimate how many will germinate. They can be planted out and their estimates checked. Vegetables can be weighed at harvest time and their weight compared to that of the seeds. Students can make comparisons between the different sizes, shapes and colours of the seeds and vegetables.
Gardeners in the community are often an excellent resource. You can identify the gardeners among the teachers and parents through the skills identification survey and also through contacting people involved in community gardening networks and groups such as the Canadian Organic Growers. People often enjoy sharing their expertise and helping out with projects.