The Edible Garden: A Delicious and Healthy Teaching Approach

A lesson good enough to eat? That’s exactly what an edible school garden is. Learn how to start one in your school or homeschool, or for an educational summer activity in your backyard, and see what students can learn from working in an edible garden.

What Is an Edible School Garden?

More than a reason to play in the dirt, the edible school garden teaches children basic gardening techniques, healthier food choices, and respect for the earth. Some gardens contribute ingredients to school lunches, and students learn basic cooking skills by helping to prepare the dishes. Edible school gardens encourage students to try new foods and help them understand climate impacts on agriculture.

Why Start a Garden?

The reasons to start an edible garden are bountiful. Teaching students to eat healthy, which could add 13 years to their life, and encouraging outdoor activity both combat obesity.

An edible school garden study in Australia yielded a 97 percent positive teacher response to the gardens, an 86 percent increase in teamwork skills, and 50 percent increase in overall improved behavior among students who struggled with bullying and aggressive behavior.

How to Create Your Own Edible Garden

Whether you are attempting to pilot a garden in your school or are planning a home garden, there are several steps you’ll need to take before planting:

  1. Select a Good Site: An empty space is ripe for a garden, but it’s important to consider if it’s a safe, accessible place for children. Availability of water, sunlight, and growth space, as well as reduced threats of damage by people or animals, are also important considerations.
  2. Conduct Soil Tests: Your local Cooperative Extension can help you conduct soil tests to determine if the ground contains the nutrients and pH necessary to foster growth, and to ensure the soil is lead-free.
  3. Determine the Goal: What do you wish to accomplish with your garden? Make sure it addresses key issues facing your students. Depending on their design, gardens can improve nutrition, encourage physical activity, provide learning, foster recreation, teach environmental respect, and offer a community gathering location.
  4. Choose What to Grow: Visit your local nursery to learn about plant characteristics, and check the USDA Plant Hardiness map to determine what grows best in your area. Choose plants that are easy for children to grow, and avoid poisonous or thorny plants. Coordinate plant choice with the lessons you plan to teach. If you want to teach about flowering plants, choose plants such as tomatoes or squash.

Learning Opportunities in the Garden

You can apply a variety of subjects to an edible school garden. Science is the most obvious subject, but students can learn the history of plants, the culture from which the food or cooking style originated, and math skills while they prepare the food. Gardening encourages leadership and collaboration skills, and students reap tangible accomplishments.

Gardens can be built around a theme. For lessons on culture, consider a multicultural garden incorporating plants from different countries. Create a dinosaur garden of plants that have existed since dinosaurs roamed the earth. An ABC garden incorporates a plant from each letter of the alphabet.

In Short

The educational benefits of an edible school garden extend far beyond science. Edible school gardens are a great way to encourage physical activity, teamwork, leadership, and food experimentation among students.

Once you’ve created your own garden, plan a visit with your kids to see one of this country’s many spectacular gardens.

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