Gardening for Growing Minds
The spotlight on making healthy food choices has come into full focus for families around the world in recent years. Thanks to initiatives like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move!, more and more people are starting to scale back on junk food and reach for healthier alternatives. In addition to Obama’s campaign, another lesser-known program has sprouted interest in local communities that want to get people— primarily kids and teenagers—involved in gardening. The National Gardening Association (NGA) has been offering their Youth Garden Grant through kidsgardening.org to schools and youth gardens since 1982 to get kids outside, where they can engage in physical activity and learn about the food system.
“As an organization, we recognized that children need to be involved in gardening as a way to understand the environment, engage in active lifestyles, and as a way to better understand and enjoy healthy, whole foods,” says Julie Parker-Dickinson, executive director of education programs for the NGA.
The NGA receives thousands of applications from schools and youth gardens every year, each of which shows a dedication to strong community and administrative support, a clear plan for sustaining the garden, and how to integrate some aspect of gardening education for youth in every season. Throughout the last 33 years, kidsgarden ing.org has awarded more than 10,000 grants totaling more than $4 million to enhance educational gardens at school, and community centers all over the country.
After grants are awarded, Julie says that many programs start small with a raised bed, composting unit, and a water source.
“Through the process of growing, students observe science principles, begin garden journals, engage in discussions with teachers and peers, try a new fruit or vegetable,” says Julie, “and often through this process they share their achievements with parents and the larger community.”
Speaking of parents and the larger community, Julie says that once kids start gardening, it creates a domino effect: “Youth gardens inspire families and neighbors to grow gardens in their own yards. Gardens beautify neighborhoods, increase access to foods, increase pollinator populations, and bring pride to communities.”
In schools and other community centers where the youth gardens are implemented, students can ensure their gardens are maintained throughout the summer when school isn’t in session by working with parents and families to have weekly sign-ups to take care of tasks such as weeding, watering, and harvesting. Local garden clubs and Girl and Boy Scout troops are also supporters of school gardens that don’t have summer programming.
Many families have a hard time coming up with ways they can give back to their schools or ways to access their children’s educational experience. To find out ways in which you can get involved with this program locally, talk to your school principals and local garden clubs, or visit kidsgardening.org.
“Youth gardening programs often begin with an individual or group of parents, teachers, or a community volunteer who recognizes a need for students to have greater access to healthy foods and environmental stewardship opportunities,” says Julie. “This grant is community supported and provides much-needed funding to schools and youth garden programs.”