School and Community Gardening

Why School Gardens Have a Special Place in Childhood Education

School gardens are a community effort. Sustainable school gardens need to look beyond the school walls to the broader community, parents, groups and organizations who support outdoor and food education. School gardens can help address some of our most pressing issues for children:

Food insecurity—a limited or uncertain access to adequate food—is a major public health concern in the U.S., and it affects those living in both rural and urban areas. Many who are food insecure live in “food desert” areas, where the nearest grocery store is more than 1 mile away (or more than 10 miles away in rural areas). The nearest source of food may be a corner market, where food comes in packages and fresh produce is limited.

Lack of food knowledge and cooking at home – Many households have a limited knowledge of the variety of fresh, healthy foods that are important for good nutrition. On any given day, just over half of American households spend any time cooking. This contributes to the problem that less than 20% of our population meet the USDA guidelines for a healthy diet.1

Childhood obesity – According to the Centers for Disease Control, poor diet and low activity levels contribute to the prevalence of childhood obesity. 14% of Indiana teens are obese and an additional 17% are overweight.

Schools have an opportunity to play a critical role in addressing these issues. By working to integrate healthy eating and active living as part of the school culture through a local foods initiative such as a school garden, the school can provide students with the knowledge and experience they need to lead healthy lives. Engaging the community in this process can build social and human capital that is vital to supporting children and graduating seniors in our towns.

1 Smith et al., Trends in US home food preparation and consumption: analysis of national nutrition surveys and time use studies from 1965–1966 to 2007–2008. Nutrition Journal. 2013, 12:45

Who Is Gardening in the U.S.?

Gardening is not simply limited to a single demographic. With the increasing popularity of community gardens in the U.S., opportunities for growing produce are abundant. Individuals without sufficient space at home may opt to test out their green thumb in a community garden or garden plot. Gardening may seem like a daunting task for those with no prior knowledge; it may be of relief, then, that some community gardens have collaborated with organizations that offer assistance with gardening through educational programs for adults, children, and families. Food gardening, and the idea of local foods, was not always as popular as it is today. The “victory gardens” of the 1940s, which supplied upwards of 40% of all American produce grown in 1943, came and went, and interest in gardening waned, then slowly grew in popularity through the early 2000s (Hansen, 2017). However, 2009 was a major turning point for many, with 20% of food gardeners, or 8 million individuals, reporting this as the first year they participated in food gardening (NGA, 2014). This surge in gardening popularity may have corresponded with First Lady Michelle Obama launching the “Let’s Move” campaign as well as reestablishing the White House Kitchen Garden in 2009—the first since WWII (Hansen, 2017).

Garden to Table: A 5-Year Look at Food Gardening in America, released by the National Gardening Association supports the research numbers and demonstrates a major increase in food gardening between 2008 to 2013. Their report noted that in in 2013, 42 million households had food gardens, a 17% increase since 2008. The greatest increases in participation were among Millennials (18- to 34-year-olds), their participation increased 63% in the same time, spending an estimated $1 billion on food gardening activities.

For additional information on gardening in the U.S.:

An American Timeline: Home Gardening in the U.S.

Hansen, J. (2017). An American Timeline: Home Gardening in the U.S. Retrieved from

Garden to Table: A 5-Year Look at Food Gardening in America

National Gardening Association. (2014). Garden to Table: A 5-Year Look at Food Gardening in America. Retrieved from

Personal Gardens: Who is growing their own in the U.S.?

Bir, C. Widmar, N.O., Schlesinger-Devlin, E., & Lulay, A. (2017). Personal Gardens: Who is growing their own in the U.S.? Retrieved from

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