Does your local elementary or middle school have a garden? According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, approximately 27% of U.S. public elementary schools have garden programs, as of 2012-2013. This number is still rather low, considering the benefits that school gardens have for students in terms of academic achievement as well as physical, social and emotional health.
Dr. Kate Burt, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Lehman College, has been exploring the paths to success, as well as the potential obstacles, of schools that currently operate school gardens. Dr. Burt, along with colleagues, has tracked the characteristics of garden programs that have longevity in elementary and middle schools. For instance, gardens often get started via momentum provided by a passionate teacher or parent. But, the key to a garden with staying power seems to be providing an infrastructure around the garden that ensures its success without relying on one individual. That way, schools avoid the common problem of the key individual leaving the school community, and the garden falling by the wayside as a result.
The results of Dr. Burt’s investigation culminated in a four-level process called the GREEN Tool. The GREEN Tool is a formally defined process towards successful school-garden integration. The GREEN Tool is the first tool of its kind to break down the nuts and bolts of the logistics of running a successful school garden, in an evidence-based way.
Some key tenets of the GREEN Tool were to educate teachers of horticulture basics, so that getting involved in the garden with no prior gardening knowledge did not feel so overwhelming. Securing reliable funding and consistent neighborhood partners for the garden project also were found to be important. Other tips were to preplan an infrastructure for upkeep of the physical space and to educate teachers on all the possibilities in terms of connecting the garden to academic work in a variety of subjects.
The full publication about this data led the research section of last month’s Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. We are so proud of Dr. Burt’s hard work!
Read a Reuters article about the publication here.
Read the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation research brief on school gardens here.
Read about some of the benefits of school-based community gardens here.
Listen to this Public Health Minute episode about how diet and physical activity here.