School gardens are unique, educational venues that promote hands-on learning, a healthy lifestyle, and a connection to the environment. School Garden Project’s staff lead high quality 10-week education programs integrating standards-based academic activities, garden work and tasting fresh produce. Our programs reach over 1,000 students annually in Lane County.
School Garden Project was formalized in 2001 to establish sustainable school gardens and to provide resources, professional consultation, and education programs in local schools. School Garden Project was born from a School Garden seminar held at the University of Oregon Urban Farm in 2000. Urban Farm students worked closely with local K-12 teachers to design and construct gardens on school grounds. By the following year, the popularity of the services university students provided for teachers outstripped the ability of the course to meet them. SGP formed to meet these needs, enlisting support from dedicated community volunteers, parents, and local businesses to serve and support its mission. Since 2001, School Garden Project has worked with over 70 schools in Lane County to establish, improve, and utilize gardens on school grounds. The school gardens we serve range in size from small plots maintained by single classes, to gardens on more than one acre that serve as a regional demonstration site of community and school gardening.
We have directly served over 10,000 students through our garden-based educational programs and provided hundreds of hours of consultation and training to local teachers interested in incorporating school gardens into their classroom curriculum. In 2006, we built a greenhouse to house the School Garden Project nursery (now the Springfield Youth Transition Program Farm), and have since distributed tens of thousands of healthy plant starts to local schools and community groups.
Each year, School Garden Project provides direct, hands-on science education to local schools. This year, we have programs in 19 schools! Our in-school garden education programs benefit primarily 1st-8th grade students in three Lane County school districts: Eugene 4J, Bethel, and Springfield. When working with one of our partner schools, we serve one complete grade-level (generally 2-3 classrooms). Each classroom receives 10 hours of science based garden education over the course of the school year.
School Garden Project students engage in hands-on, active, experiential learning that focuses on clearly identified science concepts and basic gardening skills. Our educational programs are aligned to Next Generation Science Standards. During garden sessions students utilize their on-site garden as a living laboratory to explore earth and life sciences. While learning in the garden, students also build relationships with the crops they plant and grow. This relationship building increases affinity for fresh fruit and vegetable consumption.
Our educational program schools pay 6%-10% of our actual programming costs. The remainder of the funds are raised through grants, business partnerships, and individual donations from the community. We base our fee structure on the individual school’s Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) rates with each session ranging from $18- $32 per visit (1 hour of direct education). Donations enable us to continue to provide quality programs to schools and keep their cost per student low.
Research supports school garden and farm to school education as an effective strategy to increase science lesson retention, as well as increase children’s preference for eating fruits and vegetables. Poor diet is widely recognized as a leading cause of childhood obesity and the early onset of dangerous and costly obesity-related diseases. Locally, farm to school and school garden education is identified in the Lane County Community Health Improvement Plan as a key strategy to prevent childhood obesity. In an era of restricted education budgets, School Garden Project provides a service that meets educational and health objectives simultaneously.
School gardens benefit students by awakening their senses and providing opportunities for experimentation and observation-based learning. Science themes that are most accessible in the garden include; plant parts and functions, soil health and decomposition, seeds, habitats, flowers and pollination, and plant needs. School gardens invite a holistic approach to education that inspires academic achievement and community building, while meeting diverse learning styles. Through the microcosm of the school garden ecosystem, students develop an awareness of the local and global ecosystems, and of the role they can play in fostering a healthy environment and healthy future for themselves and their community. They provide schools with a platform to foster a positive relationship between youth and the natural world.
In a typical School Garden Project lesson, one of our garden educators starts the hour indoors, introducing the lesson’s theme and planned activities in an engaging way. The class then splits into three smaller outdoor learning groups, with 8-12 students per group. These smaller groups then head out to learn in their school garden. While in the garden, students rotate through three distinct learning stations. These are led by trained volunteer educators. While actual activities vary, during each lesson students can expect to be exploring the garden as scientists, learning and honing their practical gardening and food production skills, and of course tasting vegetables and fruits they have grown! As the hour comes to an end, the class comes back together as a whole group, for a closing activity or discussion that connects the science theme to the garden tasks or tastings that took place during the lesson.
Our program model relies on our experienced staff, our ability to offer volunteer-based small group instruction in the garden, and strong partnerships with school staff who revisit the theme of the day as it relates to the students, and parents who work to keep the gardens flourishing even when the kids aren’t learning in them.