Fishing For Advice



I’m about to write a proposal to the principal and PTA of my kids’ elementary school that this sunny east-facing piece of land be turned into a vegetable garden.

Have any Rant readers helped with school gardens? Any advice for what seems to work best with kids? Start a club and give each member his or her own plot to plant? Convince the teachers to bring entire classes out? Talk about soil science or just hand the kids trowels and let them have at it?

Many thanks.


  1. Check out slow food
    they are very active in school gardens, and even fund the projects.

    I tried a veggie garden at my kids school in IL, the biggest problem I ran into was people saying, “Most veggies grow when the kids are on summer break”. If you encounter that you might think about a wildlife garden that has interesting plants and creatures all year. The Nation Wildlife federation is helpful with this.

    I think every school needs a garden. Good Luck!

  2. I prefer the idea of a summer wildlife garden as the summer break issue means more than just the kids are not around. It also means that there is often no groundskeeping. Our school was overrun with weeds and the asst. principle asked the cub scouts to clean things up.

    Better yet, find a day care center nearby to garden. Ours has a gorgeous summer garden filled with herbs, veggies and flowers. Funny, you can’t get a kid to eat a radish or a carrot, but if you tell a kid that he can pull that plant out, wash it off and eat the root, he’ll take the “double dog dare!”

    And don’t forget about your local boy scout and girl scout troops. They both have nature/garden/environmental requirements.

  3. Well part of the issue is that one of the best times for cool kid-friendly veg like summer squash and tomatoes is summer when the kids aren’t in school. I think addressing that is key.

    Also I would put a bit of focus on plants that smell really heavily: mint, basil, lavender – ripping up leaves and producing a strong smell is kind of awesome for kids and has all sorts of educational concepts to follow. Plus mint and lavender are indestructible.

  4. And based on dinner conversations with my then ten-year-old daughter: Show the kids what to do and then Stand Back! She came home from ‘helping’ with a community garden to cry – but those old people kept taking the plants out of our hands and doing it themselves! [and probably saving their little green lives] Kids want to Do and not Watch.

  5. Diana, you are so right–my kids want to select their own seedlings and plant their own beds and too bad if I don’t like orange marigolds.

    That argues for lots of little beds.

  6. Michelle, have you considered contacting your local extension office for advice? Here in Virginia they are very cooperative with(and often initiate)projects of this ilk, and have access to lots of resources.

  7. Speaking as a teacher, I think it’s best if you can show the school how it can compliment their curriculum. Lots of schools are exploring community service opportunities, others have botany units in middle and upper elementary grades. Find out what the school teaches/promotes/cares about and then find a way to make a garden fit into that. Show the school a concrete, hands-on project that kids can do that also extends the curriculum or otherwise benefits the school and your chance of success will be that much greater.

  8. It’s an admirable idea, but on a practical level, this piece of land is probably not sunny enough to grow many vegetables if it truly faces east. The shade cast by this massive brick building will be much darker than that created by deciduous trees, etc., and much more extensive than that cast by a shorter building. As an elementary school teacher, I’d want to choose a location that would better set my students up for success, or only plan to plant things which can produce in limited light conditions. The wildlife idea might be much more site-appropriate, even though it might not have as many applications in the classroom.

  9. Jeff, the strip of land is foreshortened in that picture. The site is fine–there’s enough of it out of the shadow of the building for most of the day and it’s open to the south.

  10. Several years ago, I helped my son’s kindergarten class put in a vegetable garden. I had to pick things that would mature before school lets out in late June. We are fortunate here to be able to have several successive plantings a year. Our spring garden grew lots of lettuce, onions, spinach, radish, kale and collards. Before we planted we did some very basic botany in the classroom and compared seed sizes and shapes. We would go out about once a week to check on things, and I would make sure it got watered when the kids could not. At harvest time we made a huge salad in one of the giant cafeteria mixing bowls. What floored me was the fact that several kids wanted too know why we were not going to cook it, and one kid had never had salad before. They all ate it and loved it. I hope that maybe the experience stuck with some of them.

  11. I’m sure you know the time constraints of working parents, teachers, and other community members who might not be able to commit volunteer hours for care and harvest of a summer vegetable garden. If you can manage to address this issue and show that a vegetable garden can be a viable school project, your proposal might be accepted. Good luck!

  12. Worm Bins!

    Every kid client I have is in love with worm bins and everything associated with what a worm bin means — recycled food waste/trash/garbage; cool “spiders ‘n bugs ‘n worms”; compost that helps the plants grow.

    The bins are a big kid favorite.

  13. Hi Michele-
    I am at the GWA conference and have lots of experience doing this! I am currently helping two elementary schools in Los Angeles put in educational gardens. I was talking to Susan Harris at lunch here at GWA and she told me about your post. (Although I am a big fan of gardenrant, I had not read it since arriving.) I have tons of info back home in LA and would be happy to share. I will drop you an email when I get back in town on Monday. This is one of my main areas of garden writing (kids & gardens) so I have links, websites, research, ideas. Fun stuff! I will contact you soon. Hopefully my info can help you in your quest!

  14. I was the garden coordinator at my son’s elementary school for several years, back at the beginning of the school garden craze here in northern California. Said son is now in college, so this was awhile ago! The most important thing, in my experience, is to have the support of your school administration. The garden of another school in town surpassed ours simply because the principal and a few teachers had the time and interest to attend school garden conferences and generate excitement among the rest of the staff (there was a fabulous one at the Edible School Yard in Berkeley that I attended along with some of these folks.) In reality, most teachers don’t have the time to bring entire classrooms of kids out into the garden. We relied on parent volunteers for that, and they were few and far between. Bringing out small groups, while the teacher stayed in the classroom with the rest of the kids, was always less chaotic than having the whole class in the garden at once. There was also the battle with the groundskeeper, who managed to squish our enthusiasm about creating various food gardens around the campus instead of the usual boring shrubs. He envisioned food fights amongst the kids using fruit and veggies as ammunition and guess who’d have to clean up the mess? He wielded alot of power around there and, in retrospect, he might have had a good point. My most successful experience was working with a 5th grade teacher, who was as excited as I was about integrating the garden into her curriculum. The kids were studying California history that year, so we focused on native plants, plants introduced by the Spanish Missionaries, and even attempted some small patches of cotton and wheat as a tribute to California agriculture. But that was the only teacher in my 3 years of volunteering who was willing to take gardening that seriously. I had other worthwhile experinces in other classrooms, but nothing as deeply integrated into the daily life of the class. Like others have suggested, there’s lots of info out there to guide you. Seems like the National Gardening Association had alot of free literature. Good luck!

  15. Michele,

    The one community garden I had success pitching was one for raised beds. If you follow the square foot method, you can remove the bed when not in use. The idea of a removable raised garden is normally much more attractive to administrators. I one at my house with a box built from 2×8’s and landscape fabric beneath. Of course, check with the NGA too. I believe they have a number of resources that could help as well. Good luck!

  16. Michele,
    I encourage you to pursue your garden dream at your child’s school. We donate to a school project in Providence RI, and at one time ran a project called The Peace Garden Project which helped schools create gardens with the students and teachers. We were not as organized as Children’s Garden Network ( So check them out. our friend Kurt travels the country helping people like you.
    Good Luck!
    Here’s an article about what they did in Prov.:

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