Sustaining School Gardens – Funding Garden Coordinators

Model Policies and Organizations from Across the Country

Written by Whitney Cohen. Life Lab Education Director

School gardens are fantastic! (To be convinced, view The Garden, A Master Teacher) But that's not what this article's about, so let me start over. School gardens are fantastic, and they require a tremendous amount of work. Which begs the question: Who can do all the work involved in growing a school garden?

There is a groundswell of public support for school gardens, and yet, according to the California School Garden Survey conducted by Life Lab in 2011, the vast majority of the work involved in creating and maintaining school gardens falls on teachers who are already clearly overworked. And while some of the necessary garden tasks fit seamlessly into the school schedule and make for ideal, hands-on learning experiences, some simply do not. And so it is common to see a teacher, at the end of a very long day, installing bird netting over the seedlings, heading out to the hardware store to replace a leaky valve, or sitting down to the computer to write a grant for a tool shed.

The good news is: there is a better way. In fact, there are many better ways! Having worked with thousands of educators across the country, we have seen unequivocal evidence that school gardens thrive when there is funding not just for materials and training, but for a leader.

Many schools fundraise to support paid garden coordinator positions via education foundations, school improvement funds, or grants. At a time when some schools are being forced to cut staffing, libraries, and even school days in the year, however, this is a tall demand: in most cases, too tall. And so today we are highlighting one model for success that we have seen taking root across the country: policies and organizations that fund coordinators to serve gardens in a particular region:

Some cities or regions have passed legislation or created service member programs to fund school garden coordinators. Here are some very exciting examples:

DC City Council unanimously passed this wellness and anti-hunger act, providing nearly $6 million soda tax dollars to D.C. district schools. In addition to improving school meals and physical education, the act allows the District to provide $10,000 stipends to schools for gardens and garden coordinators, and to hire one district-wide School Garden Specialist to support them.

  • Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, CA

In 2008, school garden coordinators and advocates presented a proposal to the Santa Cruz City Schools Parcel Tax Oversight Committee for inclusion in a parcel tax renewal. This committee created a list of recommended jobs and programs, including garden coordinator positions. The school board adopted these recommendations and the voters passed the 9-year parcel tax, which now funds garden coordinators in all 4 elementary schools in the SCCS school district for 20 hours/week plus benefits. 

  • Education Outside (formerly the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance) in San Francisco, CA

Education Outside has helped secure nearly $14 million in bond funding for the development of green schoolyards in 84 San Francisco public schools. The organization funds green schoolyard installation; teacher trainings; and a service corps program that places 10 Corps for Outside Education service members in 10 public elementary schools.

FoodCorps is a national network of AmeriCorps service members working on school garden and farm to school programs in limited-resource communities. There are currently 80 FoodCorps service members and 12 fellows across 12 states, and the program is growing. Schools and other site hosts pay a cost share of $5,000 to host full-time service members, many of whom coordinate one or more gardens in their service regions. 


There are also various foundations and non-profits that fund school garden coordinators in their areas. Here are a few stellar examples:           

The Orfalea Foundation funds 21 garden coordinators, each of whom oversees 1-3 school gardens. Each coordinator is funded for 10 hours/week per garden.

City Sprouts funds 4 garden coordinators for 30 hours/week from April-November. Each garden coordinator oversees 3 school gardens. City Sprouts also hosts 3 FoodCorps members, each of whom oversee 1-2 school gardens. 

Urban Sprouts funds 3 garden coordinators for 12-32 hours/week year-round. Between them, these coordinators oversee 5 school gardens.

This model differs from those above. REAL School Gardens provides $400 stipends to garden coordinators (often teachers) from 92 schools that demonstrate a broad base of support from staff, parents, principal, community members, and students. Before garden installations, schools are guided to establish a garden committee to spread the load of responsibility and ensure that the garden coordinator is the leader of the team, but not the sole caretaker of the garden. REAL School Gardens staff support the 92 garden teams with coordinator meetings, supplies, and other resources.


Of course, some teachers would like to be the Garden Coordinators for their schools, and they are ideal candidates for the job! In order to make this proposition sustainable, some schools have fundraised to pay substitutes, providing release time for the teachers to teach and manage their own school gardens. Here's an example:


If you have another model for supporting school gardens to share, please keep the conversation alive! Post a comment about the models you know below.


Also see in our Sustaining School Gardens series:

​Coming Soon:

  • Volunteer-led programs.


  • sagegardenproject

    Sage Garden Project is one arm of a private foundation that is currently funding garden coordinators at two Title 1 schools, and a part-time garden teacher/coordinator at a third school. We also found that a paid position was essential for a school garden to thrive. Many schools in our area already have gardens, but too many are underutilized and have been left untended. It is too much to expect a teacher to add this to their duties, and even the most dedicated parents move on when their child no longer attends the school. This is clearly the first step. If gardens expect to be funded by school districts, they will need to meet curriculum guidelines, and get integrated into the school day – either as official pull-out programs, or in scheduled weekly lessons. Our program is practicing this, with a goal of setting up self-sufficiency that eliminates the need for our assistance. Also, one of the districts we are active in has hired a consultant to oversee and support all the school gardens.

  • Sam Ullery

    I enjoyed reading this post as I strongly agree that every school garden must have a garden coordinator to oversee the day-to day operations of the garden.  Just as a library has a librarian, a school garden must have a coordinator otherwise the garden is under utilized (imagine a school library without a librarian… practically useless). I realize it is a stretch to compare a library and a school garden, however when we think about how a school garden is used by classroom teachers it is very much like a library.  Of course school gardens are alive, so the garden coordinator must have a very unique and specialized set of skills.  While in DC we do fund the staffing of 22 school gardens, we also work with local non-profits to provide training to garden coordinators.  This training piece is essential and serves to build a community of professionals as well.    

  • txcypress

    I'm the instructor/adviser for a middle school garden and high density orchard in the North Houston area. The garden facility was developed with funding from two annual grants that included a small stipend for an adviser. The stipend is only large enough to cover gas and incidental expenses. The school principal supports the program by using one period of our campus teacher allotment to staff a gardening course. I wrote an elective, one-semester course curriculum, which puts kids in the garden nearly every day and supports cross-curricular projects. During the daily class, students plan, work with plant materials, perform maintenance/watering, study nutrition, investigate water and agricultural production issues, cook, etc. Although teaching the class is another science lab prep, it is better than functioning as a purely volunteer teacher adviser, depending totally on after school time for garden tasks.