Life Lab

Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

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.

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Life Lab has been the most innovative and relevant organization in this field. From providing the best curriculum to their cutting edge professional development, we have relied on Life Lab as our go to organization for support, ideas, and collaboration.
Rachel PringleSenior Director of ProgramsEducation Outside
Life Lab provides truly inspiring training. Their breadth of experience, joy for teaching, and commitment to sharing knowledge highlight the best practices in food and garden education.
Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps
Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.
Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary
Terry had another awesome two weeks at Life Lab. I think he learns more there than in any other part of his year. School is great, but he’s passionate (and often dogmatic) about what he learns there.
Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom