The Benefits of Building an Urban Garden at Your School

Part Two of our "Benefits of Urban Gardening" Series

Read our previous post on how urban gardening can reduce air pollution!

Urban gardening doesn’t have to stop in our neighborhoods or in our backyards. Schools nationwide have shown a steady interest in building urban gardens as well. Schools in urban settings can be an ideal place to start gardening projects for teachers and students. Urban gardens in schools across the country have contributed signficantly in improving students'  lives and academics.

Improving Nutrition for Students

Gardening in the urban school setting provides students access to healthy fresh foods in otherwise inaccessible neighborhoods. In certain communities where food deserts are prevalent, these community gardens provide a nutritional avenue for students and their families. Students learn how to grow fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which are new to their palate, while teachers provide information about healthy eating. Children who benefit from having a school garden also have a better relationship with food thanks to the increase in fruit and vegetable consumption.

Improving Educational Outcomes

Educational studies have long acknowledged the connection of healthy, well-fed children and education. Dietitians, for example, emphasize the importance of breakfast for growing children. Eating a balanced breakfast gives students the energy they need for good school performance. Skipping meals, however, results in lower IQ scores and shortened attention spans. But students also show improved academic success just from the experience of learning about the process of growing the food they eat.

At Promise Academy Charter School in Harlem, teachers incorporate math and science standards by teaching students how plants grow and how to properly measure plant beds. REAL School Gardens, a non-profit that partners with schools to build gardens for three years, argues that students, particularly at the elementary school level, are more engaged with real-world hands on learning that these gardens provide. Partnering schools have reported increased student participation and better standardized test scores as just some of the benefits from using school gardens as a teaching tool.

Environmental Stewardship

Students who participate in gardening clearly learn how access to fresh fruits and vegetables improve their own lives. But the skills students can learn from gardening go beyond themselves and their peers. According to the Western Growers Foundation, students become participants in environmental stewardship when introduced to agricultural practices, “Through gardening, students become responsible caretakers. They have an opportunity to engage in agricultural practices on a small scale, learning about the responsibilities and impacts of land cultivation. They explore the web of interactions among the living and nonliving players that sustain life. By doing so, they develop a greater understanding of the natural world.”

The skills learned at an early age also affect the type of adults these students become. Researchers generally agree that students who actively, or even passively, interact with nature end up having greater positive attitudes about nature well into adulthood. School and urban gardens are thus one way to ensure an environmentally-conscious future.

Funding for Urban Gardens

Funding for urban gardens in and out of schools used to be seen as a luxury few schools could afford; but because of the ample evidence of their benefits, more funds for these projects are becoming available each year. REAL School Gardens, for example, recently expanded their projects from urban Texas areas to the greater Washington, DC area. Even the USDA has recently expanded their funding efforts to include urban farmers. These resources are essential in order to ensure that students living in even the most vulnerable conditions are given the tools to become advocates for this planet’s future.