Life Lab sprouted at Green Acres Elementary School in 1979. Most of the gardens that we have worked with over the past 35 years are located on, and serve one school site. While visiting school gardens in Denmark and Norway I was impressed by their model of one large garden serving multiple school sites. The reality of challenges related to creating and sustaining a school garden at an individual school site got me interested in looking at multi-use gardens in the US.
This concept of One Garden, Many Schools has been researched and crafted into the following Sustainability Series article written by Life Lab Intern Cora Sorenson. Cora is graduate student in Education and Business at Mills College.
– John Fisher, Life Lab
View our archived webinar on Regional Support Models for Sustaining School Gardens
The Traditional Model: One Garden, One School
School gardens have the ability to transform minds and lives, but they can present substantial challenges. But with the help of service business resources, any professional company who may end up assisting these kids in the school garden will be able to give the gardens all the love and care it needs, in the hopes of transforming minds and lives.
Amidst significant public school funding cuts, school gardens are not high on the priority list for most schools. Some schools do not have the physical space for an outdoor garden nor access to a shed builder that could help build storage space for gardening projects. According to the CA School Garden Survey, funding, supplies, and staffing are the top three challenges for the state’s school gardens. Even a well-intentioned garden project may be short lived, lack administrative and financial support, and suffer from shifting and inconsistent leadership. The CA School Garden Survey also states that teachers are the ones most often responsible for school gardens. Yet these teachers or other school garden leaders may find themselves lacking adequate collaboration with school administration, time to plan garden lessons, implement a growing plan, and maintain the garden over time.
In light of the challenges of running on-site school gardens, it can be beneficial to consider alternative models to providing students garden education. The following programs serve multiple schools, sometimes including the public, in what we are calling the “One Garden, Many Schools Model”.
The goal is not to make a ‘one-size fits all’ model, but to broaden the discussion around what is possible in a community. Every garden project will look different, depending on a community’s resources, space, support, and leadership. The models discussed here are solutions unique to each community.
One Garden, Many Schools Models
Kobenhavns Skolehaver – Copenhagen School Gardens Program
Where: about 5 miles outside of Copenhagen, Denmark
What: Over 7 acres of working gardens: both common gardens & individual 2.5 square meter plots, where students cultivate individual plots for themselves and their families.
History: Multi-use gardens have been part of Copenhagen’s school system since the 1920s. Currently, there are four multi-use garden areas in the city. Copenhagen School Gardens is the oldest & largest., supported by the Copenhagen Municipality since 2010.
Who does it serve? Over 50 percent of Copenhagen’s public schools, families. Estimated 2,200 students/year, 20,000 visits/year.
Main Program (includes Summer): (May-Sept), hosts 35 school classes from 17 different Copenhagen schools . Each school visits once a week for three hours, for a total of 16 times during the season.
Winter: 50 school classes from 20 different schools attend themed classes about birds, wood-carving, bread-baking, bee-keeping and more.
Afterschool: run by 30 volunteers, allows approximately 60 families to grow food with their children on individual garden plots
How do students get there? Public bus or train, maximum of 45 minute commute
Staff: 3 full-time & 4 extra part-time staff during the summer
Spring Creek’s Urban Classroom Garden
Where: Brooklyn, New York
What: An educational non-profit organization garden of 17 raised- beds, used by the community’s public schools and Yeshiva to: enhance teaching of math/science concepts through garden lessons, encourage healthy food choices and outdoor activity, and make learning about natural world, science, and math more interesting to children.
History: Launched in Spring 2012, by the Spring Creek Recreational Fund. Spring Creek Tenants Association, located close to JFK airport, is the largest coop apartment complex in United States, having its own grocery stores, malls, and schools. The garden was built by owners of the Coop as a space where children in their community can get a garden education.
Who does it serve? Estimated 200 students from Spring Creek local schools: preschool through high school from 3 public schools and a Yeshiva, (a Jewish K-12 program focusing on traditional religious education).
Main Program: Using Life Lab’s “The Growing Classroom, Garden Based Science”, classes range from 15-27 students, taught by the UCG staff member with the school teacher present. Up to 8 school classes visit an average of once per week throughout the school year.
Winter: Teaching is conducted indoors; students study hydroponics and soil composition with the UCG staff.
Summer: Day camps for students, as well as a Summer Youth Employment Program, where teenagers are trained in garden skills and learn to mentor younger students in the garden.
Afterschool: Afterschool clubs visit garden once/week
How do students get there? Schools are within walking distance and walk to the garden
Staff: 1 part-time staff
Where: Located within New York City’s Battery Park, a 25-acre public park at the southern tip of Manhattan.
What: A one-acre organic farm, with a mission to educate not only NYC public school students, but also the community members and general public about growing and eating good food.
History: The Farm started in 2010, when students of Millennium High School’s Environmental Club asked to grow a vegetable garden in the park. This sparked the creation of an educational farm with a strong public mission.
Who does it serve? 2500 students from a total of 50 schools throughout the city, including Queens.
- Public schools grades K-12, Teacher-led garden programs: Teachers, parents or other school representatives receive a plot of land for the growing season, and bring their students to the Farm to teach lessons of their own design once a week. Teachers plant, tend and harvest according to their own educational needs.
- Public schools K-3: BUF Farm-Educator led garden programs: BUF Farm-Educators lead 8-12 weeks of garden curriculum, once/week. Lessons generally last between 1-2 hours.
- Schools or summer camps that are not able to make a long-term commitment, can visit the farm for an enrichment visit, (currently 40 participating schools)
- Volunteer days
- Public events
- Teacher training
- Farm apprentices
Winter: BUF continues curriculum and hosting students at the farm when weather permits
Summer: City Seedlings Summer Program, in which children visit the garden twice a week for two weeks to engage in garden-based programs.
Where: Palo Alto, California
What: A half-acre, 27 plot multi-use school garden. Common Ground Garden is a hyper-local program, serving 6 schools within walking distance. Its growth focuses on increasing the frequency and consistency at which its current six schools visit the garden, and deepening its curriculum.
History: It has been cultivated as a garden space since 2007, launching into a full education program in 2012.
Who does it serve? 6 schools, both private and public, Preschool through High School. Many of these schools have their own gardens on-site, however, the unique proximity of the schools to the Common Ground Garden has led it to be a shared garden space. An estimated total 900 youth visits per year.
- Run on John Jeavons’ bio-intensive model, Common Ground cultivates shared learning gardens that seek to produce as much as possible in the smallest space.
- CG staff lead garden classes that illustrate for students the potential for a garden to generate thriving and abundant produce.
- In addition to working in the demonstration garden, classes can get one or two beds for their own use, in which lessons are developed and led by the school teacher.
- CG staff work with teachers to tailor garden classes to in-class curriculum, building the bio-intensive model into their learning, and focusing on eating fresh, healthy food.
- The garden offers an average of four classes per week in the Spring, and three classes per week during the Fall. During the busiest season, students come every one or two weeks.
Winter: November through February the garden does not run programs, allowing staff to develop curriculum, outreach to teachers, and plan for the growing season.
How do students get there? Walk, no more than 15 minute walk
Staff: 2 staff
Where: Washington, DC
What: TMA Garden is the first and only shared school garden between a D.C. public school and a charter school. Located in an area with some of the highest obesity and poverty rates, as well as largest “food deserts” in D.C., the garden seeks teach youth important healthy living skills. The garden has 20 raised beds, a berry patch and many fruit trees, a storm water garden, pollinator garden, and native plantings.
History: TMA Garden started in 2006 when a group of teachers and students built four raised beds to see if they could grow their own food. Three years later, in 2009, the garden occupied an underused section of the Savoy ES field thanks to the strong partnerships between A. Kiger Savoy ES (a public school) & Thurgood Marshall Academy, and the support of many local organizations.
Who does it serve? Students of Thurgood Marshall Academy and A. Kiger Savoy Elementary School
- The Thurgood Marshall Academy Green Club uses the garden weekly to conduct food tastings, garden maintenance, and events. Students gather on picnic tables around a movable white board under a large tree on the blacktop, or in the garden. The classroom space is easily moved to other sections of the garden.
- The garden is used by classroom teachers to provide hands-on learned in Science, Spanish, and Government classes. The garden offers teachers plots to develop as well.
- Starting in 2011, the Green Club provided several farmer’s markets and a CSA for students, parents, faculty, and staff.
- TMA students participate in a Garden Internship program through the DC Summer Youth Employment Program. These Garden Interns will build a Heritage Garden to be used in several Social Studies courses throughout the year.
Winter: The garden is maintained and used year-round
How do students get there? Students walk
Staff: The garden is run by one part-time school garden coordinator. The coordinator is supported by teachers and staff who lead the Green Club activities.
Benefits of a One Garden, Many Schools Model
Staff of multi-use school gardens are dedicated and experienced gardeners, as well as educators. Because they work with a high volume of students, they have the opportunity to test out and refine content over time, producing high quality garden lessons. They have specialized equipment for specialized lessons, and can expose students to specialized processes. Multi-use gardens have a separate full-time staff that is trained to work in the garden as their profession, and therefore have more time and energy to maintain the garden space, create program and curriculum, and generate a vibrant program. Multi-use gardens have localized and centralized expertise where all resources can be found in one place. They are specialists at teaching gardening skills and integrating these into state standards. Staff expertise also leads to gardens that are not only growing, but are growing with success, thriving gardens that model for students the potential of a garden. In other-words, students have benefit of being taught by teachers for whom this is a full-time job, who are professionals, who have horticultural expertise and teaching experience to offer.
Multi-Use Educational Gardens Are Supported by Experts in Their Field
- Refined and specialized curriculum
- Unique and special equipment
- Full-time staff who are both horticulturalists AND educators
- Know what works best in the garden, and for students
- Resources can be found in one place
- Expert gardeners can create thriving, inspiring gardens
- Garden staff have wealth of knowledge & experience to share
Multi-use gardens can create a powerful sense of community: not only between schools sharing the garden, but also with families, community members and members of the public who participate in the garden. This sense of community grows as visits become more frequent, and participant interactions increase. Participants from various schools share space, share resources, and may even work together, creating a space for exchanging ideas and stories, as well as opportunities for mentorship between older and younger students in the garden. In addition, multi-use gardens offer the opportunity for collaboration between schools: teachers who have run gardens at their own schools for several years can get together, collaborate, and discuss challenges and successes. Multi-use gardens also provide the potential for food collectives, in which seeds and food grown at each school are shared by the community.
Multi-Use Educational Gardens Cultivate Community
- Generate a powerful sense of community
- Mentorship across age-groups
- Potential for multi-school collaboration
- Garden teachers from different schools can exchange ideas and experiences
- Sharing of resources
For schools that are not able to start their own garden, multi-use gardens makes it easier and more convenient for them. If participating in a shared garden, schools don’t have to start and maintain the garden, and teachers don’t have to develop their own curriculum.
Multi-Use Educational Gardens are a convenient option
- Available garden site if a school can’t or doesn’t want to start its own
- Schools don’t have to start/maintain garden
- Teachers don’t have to design or deliver curriculum
Support and Training Ground
Staff at the multi-use garden can provide schools and teachers support in starting their own school gardens by: growing seedlings and starts for school gardens; providing materials and garden equipment that can be shared by all schools; sharing expertise and ‘know-how’ to teachers who want to start their own gardens; and modeling garden skills and lessons for teachers who may have interest in garden education but may not yet have knowledge of how to integrate academic content with garden lessons, or how to start a school garden. Staff from a multi-use garden can provide coaching as well as practical and educational support on planning what to plant and how to teach to it.
Additionally, multi-use sites can host teacher-training programs to train teachers to start their own garden projects in their schools. Once teachers observe and participate in garden learning for a little while, they can see how it’s done, gain experience and confidence. In multi-use gardens where garden staff teach lessons, classroom teachers have the opportunity to see their students engage with garden, actively learning in an outdoor classroom where they can see the real impact of the experience on their students.
Multi-Use Educational Gardens Support Teachers & Model Best Practices
- Garden staff provide teachers support to start their own garden
- Gardens can host teacher training programs
- Garden itself is a training ground for classroom teachers, who observe curriculum and gardening maintenance
- Teachers that are overwhelmed by starting their own gardens or unclear about how to deliver curriculum can gain confidence as they participate in the multi-use garden
Impact of Space
Multi-use models are a good solution for schools that don’t have space for a garden on-site. These gardens are likely to be larger than individual school gardens, with more variety of produce being grown. This can increase students’ exposure to what a large working garden looks like, and what it can produce. As students and other visitors go to this space, it becomes infused with meaning for not only students, but also for families and community members.
Multi-Use Educational Gardens Make an Impression
- Multi-use gardens generally larger and more impressive than school gardens
- Potential for students to be exposed to a greater variety and quantity of produce
- Separate space takes on unique meaning and culture for visitors
Challenges of the One Garden, Many Schools Model
There are challenges that come with multi-use gardens. It is important that teaching links are made between garden experience and school curriculum. When multiple schools are using one space, intra-school collaboration is essential to ensure the space is used equitably. Questions come up such as: How do multiple schools share resources in the garden? Who funds which part of the garden? Although they share a garden space, schools may be quite isolated from each other, and it can be challenging to build a cohesive vision amongst different schools. In addition, depending upon the circumstances, transportation time can eat into learning time. Finally, if the program is successful, does it have enough space/capacity to handle high demand of schools/students who want to use it?
- Are teaching links being made when students return to their classrooms?
- Are participating schools willing to contribute to funding the program?
- How can schools collaborate cooperatively?
- How do multiple schools share garden resources?
- How to build a cohesive vision between participating schools?
- Are multi-use garden staff prepared to invest energy into maintaining positive relationships with a variety of stakeholders?
- If the program is successful, does it have the space/capacity to handle high demand?
Considerations for Starting a Multi-use Garden Site
- Do you have significant and appropriate space? Multi-use gardens function best at a minimum of a quarter acre. Does the garden space have water access and sunlight?
- Do schools have easy accessibility to the garden? Either by foot, or convenient and easy public transportation? Multi-use gardens work well in high density urban areas where schools are located close to each other
- What is the community climate? Do you have strong organization amongst parents and community members from a variety of the schools willing to come together for fundraising and involvement? Is there interest within the community?
- Is there a need? Does the school need a space off-campus for garden use? Does the school or teacher lack resources and or knowledge to start their own garden?
- Is the multi-use program staff willing to seize the challenge of building something from scratch and building a program?
- Is there clear alignment between the mission of the multi-use site and its actual program deliverables?
As we expand our possibilities for educating students in gardens, it is important to remember that this is not an ‘either/or’ question. The question is not on-site school garden vs. multi-site garden. For some schools, it may be both, and each solution is highly sensitive and specific to its community. In some cases, due to geography and proximity of schools, it may make more sense to have a multi-site garden program. In others, it may not. The diversity of approaches is what makes this a rich and dynamic landscape.
- There is no one cookie-cutter model that will fit all circumstances
- Each garden will be unique to its landscape and the needs of its community
–Part of our Sustaining School Gardens articles.