Share if You Think Every School Should Have a Year-Round Organic Gardening Program!

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A few years ago the children at our school grew, harvested and, ultimately, ate a giant, two-pound carrot.

Our organic gardening program at the Waldorf School of Cape Cod has come a long way since then. We now have a unheated hoop house and a program where middle school gardeners lead first through fifth graders as they learn to build soil, plant, transplant, tend, water and harvest food year round. Our harvests are transformed by our school chef into amazing meals served at lunch.

Note: to receive updates about our  conferences and publications about year round gardening in schools, follow this blog or like Growing Children on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/growingchildre?fref=ts

The summer tending of the garden is a community responsibility. We have weekly Family Gardening sessions organized by grade level where families share a pot luck meal and then work together in the garden in the cool of the evening.

The 24 by 48 feet hoop house is the heart of our gardening program. It is an indoor gardening classroom that aligns the school year with garden life  by spreading the harvest over four seasons. Since it is unheated, we choose winter crops such as carrots, spinach and kale that grow when the nights are very cold and the days are slightly warm.  A sunny day in February can bring temperatures in the 20s outside and in the sixties in the hoop house. The night lows in the hoop house can go into the teens or 20s,  Yet, since the soil is warmed by the sun during the day, the soil in the beds never freezes.  Our inspiration for the growing methods we use comes from Eliot Coleman who has written books about growing in four seasons in Maine.  http://www.fourseasonfarm.com

Winter gardening classes are in the hoop house where we harvest spinach, kale, carrots and more

Winter gardening classes are in the hoop house where we harvest spinach, kale, carrots and more

Our spring hoop house harvests are substantial. We have early strawberries, bushels of spinach and baby kale, lots of chives and parsley and snow peas.  The plastic roof is removed for the summer months to avoid overheating.IMG_5375

Most greenhouse farmers cover most of their indoor space with plants.  We are growing kids as well as plants, so only half the space in the greenhouse is covered with growing beds. We have a space to congregate at one end. The children had the idea to use sand rather than gravel between the beds and this has made the hoop house serve double duty as a protected winter sandbox.  The  used structure was bought through Craigslist and dedicated parents rebuilt the structure at school and built garden beds.

While every student in the school devotes some time each year to growing lunch, each year  the third graders are our weekly farmers. They  are in charge of turning lunch scraps into compost in our tumbling composter. And, a new-this-year worm bed in the hoop house creates vermicompost http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermicompost  with the help of thousands of red worms.

I am continually awed by the energy and engagment children pour into all aspects of gardening. Our local newspaper made a video about the giant carrot that shows their tremendous enthusiasm.

This week my class is studying botany and specifically the growth of seeds by tucking seeds between the wall of a clear plastic tub and a few layers of wet paper towels. I gave the class permanent markers so they could write their own names on the tubs. Soon I realized that the quart containers were covered with more than their own names. They had given each seed a name: Poseidon, Zeus, Heidi!  Now, each morning, I hear delighted exclamations, “One of our beans has sprouted! Heidi has a root!” “We have a sprouted leek seed. You have to look quite carefully to see it.”  This is a hands-on exploration of monocotyledons (the leek is an example) and dicotyledons (the bean is an example). The children are learning those terms and what they mean.  But, in my mind, even more vital is that they are given the opportunity to celebrate life. This part of the lesson does not need to be taught. It just rises up from within them, as naturally as the rising of the sun, as irrepressibly as the sprouting of the bean seed.

We seem to be a culture that is anxious about whether our children are learning enough, learning soon enough, learning exactly the right information. But, in the end, it is  enthusiasm and care for life and learning that will carry them.  Who can list with any certainly all of the facts, understandings and skills our children will need to possess twenty, thirty and forty years from now? Certainly, they will need to assimilate much that we cannot even imagine. (If you are my age you know that forty years ago you could never have imagined taking pictures with your phone, nor could anyone have pictured then the tech jobs of this decade.)

Why teach gardening? To help children make good food choices? Yes. To learn about botany? Yes. To bring healthy exercise into the school day? Yes.  To give children an understanding of the work behind their food? To teach them how to grow their own food ?  Yes. But, most of all, let’s grow with children in order to fuel their natural enthusiasm for life.

For more about Family Gardening read https://childrengrowing.com/2015/09/08/do-you-think-this-could-become-as-big-as-baseball/

The giant carrot video:

  One thought on “Share if You Think Every School Should Have a Year-Round Organic Gardening Program!

  1. May 13, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    Did you design & build the “hoop house” or is it pre-fab?

    Like

    • May 14, 2015 at 5:52 am

      We. found an existing structure on Craiglist, disassembled it and rebuilt it at school with new plastic. We designed the new interior with kids in mind. About half the interior is growing space. We left more room than a farmer would for kids to move and to congregate for listening to lessons. The kids had the idea of using sand for the growing areas and this has provided a comfortable surface for kneeling when working and also doubles as a sand box at playtime. We used cedar for the garden beds. You can find structures like this at Farmtek or Greenhouse Megastore. We could not have done this without tremendous support from a team of dedicated parents.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Christy Barnette
        June 14, 2015 at 1:59 pm

        You can find this exact structure at Gothic Arch Greenhouses, too!!
        10% off until October 20!
        https://www.gothicarchgreenhouses.com/PT-30-greenhouses.html

        Liked by 1 person

      • September 17, 2015 at 9:24 am

        I am part of an eco-garden project in north London in the U.K. and we have built a polytunnel (hoophouse) using 2″/ 50mm plastic mains water pipe for the hoops and a purchased polythene sheet. The old allotment site, which had been derelict for about 30 years, was cleared for us at the end of October last year since when largely with the use of donated materials and volunteers we have manually dug and weeded repeatedly and planted many vegetables and flowers which we are harvesting regularly and have built pig pens and a large chicken house. We currently have 16 chickens, 6 pigs and 5 piglets, born just a few days ago. The aim is to provide produce including eggs (currently 12 – 14 daily) for the local community, who are invited to make a donation to our charity. In addition we have disabled groups, for whom there are raised beds so that they can get involved, and school groups wanting to visit. Everything here is organic, the livestock are free range, and the site provides education as well as being therapeutic. In the summer the temperature in our polytunnel reached 47 deg. C / 126 deg. F! We have also planted a small fruit tree orchard and are planning to have bee hives next year. A hydroponics system is due to be set up with tanks of fish, whereby the water containing the fish waste is circulated through pipes in which vegetable plants are growing, the root hairs of which trap the waste, and the cleaned water is returned to the fish tanks. , a great and economical way of growing food and keeping the fish.

        Liked by 1 person

      • September 17, 2015 at 11:56 am

        Hi Malcolm, Your project sounds wonderful! If you have not come across this resource for aquaculture information, you might be interested in http://newalchemists.net/portfolio/aquaculture/.
        We actually remove the plastic from our hoop house each summer and replace it at Michaelmas. This gives the soil a chance to be cleansed by the sun (otherwise you need to replace soil every 3 years due to molds etc) and fits better with our summer staffing as a hot hoop house needs daily attention and watering. Sending good wishes for your ongoing success.

        Like

    • Christy Barnette
      June 14, 2015 at 2:07 pm

      You can find this exact structure at Gothic Arch Greenhouses, too!!
      10% off until October 20!
      https://www.gothicarchgreenhouses.com/PT-30-greenhouses.html

      Like

  2. Dr. Elias C. Cam
    June 7, 2015 at 7:58 am

    It is believed that the ABC of education is agriculture. We really have to start our kids early along this belief. One practical way to teach patience to small children is for us teachers and adults to ask them to wait until the seed that they have dropped into the ground sprouts. And as the young plant grows, teach kids to care for it and call the activity “nurturing.” Am 101% in agreement that schools should have gardens for more than just one reason!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ben Stacey
      June 18, 2015 at 11:03 pm

      This should be a compulsory subject in schools. I grow my own vegetables and it’s so rewarding

      Like

    • July 28, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      I fully support this. An imaginative teacher can link gardeingbto all subjects in the curriculum at all school grades. And gives returns for the investment!

      Like

      • August 30, 2015 at 9:38 pm

        In fact, activities that involve the senses as well as active participation teach much better than books, especially for science. Of course all subjects can be incorporated into garden, and as a sidebar, students learn self-reflection, critical thinking, and self-reliance as they deal with real-life situations day by day.

        Like

  3. Rob
    June 8, 2015 at 8:11 am

    In South Africa we have http://www.seed.org.za Viva Growing Children !!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. John Guest
    June 9, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Eastdale Collegiate in Toronto, ON, Canada, has a large rooftop garden (with classroom space). Its produce is used in cooking classes. Students are hired to tend the garden and sell the produce at a local farmers’ market over the summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 9, 2015 at 8:11 pm

      This sounds lovely. I especially like the idea of using a rooftop!

      Like

      • June 9, 2015 at 8:24 pm

        we have a low growth period from about mid-December to mid January when the light levels are lower. I was wondering how long your slow growth period is with even lower levels of light around the solstice.

        Like

      • June 9, 2015 at 8:24 pm

        we have a low growth period from about mid-December to mid January when the light levels are lower. I was wondering how long your slow growth period is with even lower levels of light around the solstice.

        Like

  5. June 10, 2015 at 4:46 am

    This is such a terrific article and really touched me. When I read mention of ‘cotyledons’, I was taken right back to the age of ten, as a very homesick boarder of a few years, being taken on a coach by our beloved teacher, Mrs Allen, to the Botany lab at our local Botanic Gardens in Natal, South Africa… I can only vaguely remember the detail, but know in my soul that bean growing was definitely involved … the memory of damp cottonwool and the sight of the young shoots emerging is with me right now … and I know that Mrs Allen’s short time in my life has played a huge role in my awareness of the natural world, well into my life, several decades later.
    When we take children out into Nature and give them the tools to connect with their food, the soil, the flowers and all that is beautiful, useful and bountiful naturally, giving them an understanding of our precious eco system and the interrelatedness of all things, we truly give them gifts for life. Thank you for your work and for wording so simply what you are doing here, and for so elegantly creating a call to action in our schools, worldwide. There is healing in Nature too.

    PS. A link to your article has been added to the Towards Greener Borders page on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/towardsgreenerborders. It has had one of the highest views of a post on the TGB page, and has had amongst the highest number of shares that posts to the page has ever had, during TGB’s short presence on the Facebook stage. Thank you for writing this excellent article. May its good work reap tremendous rewards!

    Blessings x

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Nhlanhlo Dlamini
    June 26, 2015 at 2:10 am

    I like this idea of growing veggies in our school. I would like to have more info on how to Assemble it. We have a nursery where we grow our seedlings

    Like

    • July 28, 2015 at 2:22 pm

      Please email me at kareid99@gmail.com. I can supply you with all the many resources of EIGSA. FGCC. Easy, step by step methods, which cost very little and will soon bring rewards.

      Like

  7. K Hammer
    July 15, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    If one is educated to read and write, gardening can be self taught. Teachers are hired to teach academics and they continually complain about lack of time to do their job. Add gardening to the school day and take time away from teaching real academics? Parents and their kids can read all about how to garden at home on summer break and weekends. Keep it out of the public school. I have heard “hungry kids can’t learn” as an excuse, no the garden is not going to sustain students; they already have free breakfast and free lunch. Obviously, I don’t support gardening during school time.

    Like

    • July 26, 2015 at 2:11 am

      I disagree with you, sitting in a classroom is one part of the learning experience and education should create an all round balanced child, this type of activity helps towards this. Music is another activity which is important to the soul, and isnt academic.

      Like

    • August 30, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Not only does this teach math and reading skills it teaches earth science. If our children are aware of the cycle of life through Organic Gardening, ie making compost with left over plant life and worms that produce nature fertilizers, they will be healthier. Raising a generation of children who can advocate for the American People again GMO’s and
      harmful fertilizers and insecticides in our food sources can change our country for the better. It makes learning fun for teachers and students, and teaches all a productive healthy way to use their time, instead of sitting in front of playing video games or surfing the internet. As far as hungry children and free school lunches, seriously you are missing the point….

      Like

    • Mary Miller
      August 30, 2015 at 6:41 pm

      @K. Hammer: One of the key reasons that gardening is such a perfect match to the school curriculum is because it teaches all academics – it is interdisciplinary! A child has to understand what resources plants need to grow (science), how to measure spaces in between seeds (math), and how to follow step by step directions in planning and planting a garden (reading), A teacher who understands the opportunities will introduce vocabulary – which improves spelling, compare colors/shapes/sizes of leaves and vegetables, create art projects from pressed leaves, elaborate on how one can minimize evaporation by watering at optimum times of day, teach team work to accomplish tasks, etc. It is all about basic skills that kids need to know and teaching them via hands-on learning…..the best way to learn. We all know how much we can remember what we have seen, felt, smelled, and touched vs. what was only talked about or read about. Gardening is real academics.

      Like

    • August 30, 2015 at 9:41 pm

      Teachers run out of time when the lessons are divided into disciplines and are guided by pre-texted books. The garden not only hold inspiration for students, but organizing curriculum around meaningful projects is more efficient in the long run. Last: how do students learn the benefits and gifts of the garden if not exposed in childhood?

      Like

    • Mag Fiorello
      August 31, 2015 at 9:14 am

      I couldn’t disagree with you more. I would tend to believe There is science, math etc lessons built into this, and life lessons that involve a sense of responsibility, community, peer to peer learning, etc. I spent 25 years in public education as Andrés and health educator, so I know first hand childhood obesity does not come from eating vegetables….teaching patience, wholesome food choices, food preparation, and on and on….best educational idea I’ve seen in a long time.

      Like

    • P. Johnson
      November 2, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      Your response is short-sighted. I must assume you have had limited experiences teaching the young both inside and outside a classroom space; had you, you would understand just how worth a child’s time this sort of teaching is. Teaching “gardening” allows one to visit everything from math and geometry skills to science and sociology, tech, and collaboration, movement, trust, and, of course, much more. It is a vital curriculum!

      Like

  8. Charlee Ware
    July 16, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    Check with your local “Agricultural Extension Service” Master Gardener Program. Members are always looking for ways to teach hands on agriculture to school children, both elementary and high schools. CWare

    Like

  9. C Ormac
    July 22, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    I’m not a teacher but I am pretty sure that in these situations the teachers use the practical task to link to other subjects such as Maths, English and Science. I’m not sure you’ll find many parents these days who can spend the weekend teaching their kids to garden, or many parents who indeed own a house with enough space for a garden, if they own a house at all! Having moved my own children from a city school to a country school, I can assure you they have never flourished as much in Maths, English and Science as now when they are in a school environment such as the one referred to here. Finally, teachers aren’t hired to teach only academic subjects. They teach social skills, life skills and a whole range of skills that most parents only dream to have the time to teach their children.

    Like

  10. August 20, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Absolutely wonderful to read about this!! I will share, I do think this should be something all children should grow up with (and maybe many adults in shared office spaces?!) I would personally have loved to have experienced this as a child, may even suggest it at work as I believe it would benefit a lot of adults too!! The values added are priceless!! What a way to connect with the natural world and the food we take into our bodies. Wonderful❤ much love❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 20, 2015 at 12:35 pm

      I actually modeled our summer family gardening program after the community gardening program I experienced at my work place many years ago. In fact, I am writing about the idea of family gardening and workplace gardening for my next blog post!

      Like

  11. Robert
    August 25, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    I dunno…What value is there in sharing on FB? Just to make the original poster feel good, watching so many likes and shares? Local government does not read or care about FB likes. When you believe in something, go advocate it to those who can do something about it! City council. Elected officials. Petitions. Otherwise, you are kidding yourself, patting yourself on the head. Others who are changing our world know this.

    Like

    • August 25, 2015 at 5:09 pm

      This is a good question. Your assumption is that the key way to make progress is to try to influence political channels. While that method is important, there is much to be said for individual and institutional initiative. I know many public schools that have gardening programs because parents and or teachers have raised money for these programs from private sources and worked hard, often as volunteers, to create gardens and curricula. My hope in sharing this is to reach those individuals of initiative who may find inspiration in our year round methods for cold/cool climates, especially the hoop house for winter gardening aligned with the school year and the evening family gardening concept as a solution to how to care for the gardens over the summer. I was initially disappointed to discover that some share the post without reading it. Yet, over time, i have come to realize that the more this is shared, the more of those people of initiative will be reached. Indeed, I have heard from many who are interested in some of our methods, especially the sand floor of our hoop house. Eventually we plan to write about our approach in detail, a how to book perhaps, and possibly to run some courses for gardening teachers. Yes, it is fun to discover that the post has been shared thousands of times. but this is a real surprise and the real benefit is not the wide sharing but discovering others on the same path and offering them information and encouragement.

      Liked by 1 person

    • August 30, 2015 at 12:19 pm

      What better way than to raise community awareness, these children are our future! Plain and simple, Our country and our health are at stake with Pharmaceutical companies and big business destroying our food with chemicals. The rate of Autism and Celiac disease has been on the rise because of these very problems, why not teach children to grow Organic food! They will grow up with a better sense of the cycle of life than looking for a free lunch.

      Liked by 1 person

    • November 11, 2015 at 12:53 am

      Are city council members and elected officials living in a different world than the rest of us? Do they not have their own FB accounts and have home in our neighborhoods? You make it sound as if these people live on a different planet. These people are our neighbors, their kids go to our neighborhood schools (I know, I taught some of them and met their parents who are elected officials at back to school nights, etc. when checking on their kids’ progress). Before they are elected they work in jobs we work in, go to the same stores, etc. we go to. Yes, they see what’s on FB just like we do. I guarantee you that elected officials read the their FB walls from time to time and they can see this too! It can be one more influential step along the way to building and growing these programs. Surely FB isn’t the only avenue that this program is marketing itself on, but FB is an influential outlet.

      Like

  12. Carol-Ann Hoyte
    August 25, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    Hello Ms. Allsup:

    Dear Tomato: An International Crop of Food and Agriculture Poems is an anthology which I created and edited. It was released in February 2015. Since you are a gardening teacher with children, I thought you would be interested in knowing about the book. Though the collection is aimed at 9- to 12-year-old kids, it offers a lot of material which will appeal to teens and adults. Should you wish to purchase it, you can order it from an independent bookseller. You can visit http://www.indiebound.org to look for indie bookstores nearest you. To read three of the poems from the book, you can visit http://www.amazon.com to do so. If you do procure a copy of the book, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

    Regards,
    Carol-Ann Hoyte

    Liked by 1 person

  13. aravaeilat
    August 26, 2015 at 5:04 am

    I have a crazy Idea of integrating Eggs, guinea pigs, compost and aquaculture at a kindergarten I volunteer at.. Does anyone have any experience with such a set up?

    Like

  14. August 26, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Reblogged this on On the Menu @ Tangie's Kitchen.

    Like

  15. August 29, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Thank you for this lovely blog. I want to know what you are up to! Please check out my blog, Wendy’s World!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Patsy Arbing
    August 31, 2015 at 3:03 am

    I think this is a wonderful program for all schools, everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. August 31, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Great Post Steve! Tristan Reynolds, owner of Hawaiian Fresh Farms in Oahu, Hawaii loves when the children come to the Farm whole their parents are working..they get to see first-hand what farming is all about and he always calls them “future farmers of Hawaii”. I think a gardening program in school is wonderful to teach the children how important their diet is in their lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Rosetoti
    September 3, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    What a wonderful blog. I started an after school Garden Club teaching 8/9 year olds basic gardening.
    I am VERY interested in the HOOP HOUSE idea. Can anyone direct me in the right direction to get ideas etc. here in the UK?

    Liked by 1 person

  19. jmhudyma
    September 7, 2015 at 1:25 am

    I love the idea, and you explained the process well. It’s great to see kids learning an appreciation of where their food comes from, and how to find ways to dispose of the waste other than putting it in the trash. I’ve always had fond memories of gardening with my mother growing up, and I’m sure it’s fun to teach as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. October 16, 2015 at 12:30 am

    Reblogged this on Cereal Typist.

    Like

  21. November 3, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    Reblogged this on The Nourished Spirit and commented:
    Ge

    Like

  22. November 4, 2015 at 7:16 am

    Reblogged this on Lessons from my daughter and commented:
    Emily’s school has garden and we (the Parent School
    support Committee) is always wondering how to grow it and make it a year-round garden…. This is amazing, I will be sharing this link.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. November 4, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    This is so awesome and inspiring! Another amazing year-round growing system is the Tower Garden: a vertical, aeroponic growing system that uses up to 90% less water than traditional gardening and uses NO SOIL! There are classrooms around the country that have implemented Tower Gardens for hands-on education. Check it out: http://www.andreadill.towergarden.com

    Like

  24. Hedi
    November 6, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    This program teaches so much to our kids. The Farm to Table concept is a great way to teach our children where their food comes from. I

    Like

  25. November 11, 2015 at 12:39 am

    That’s a perfect size greenhouse to incorporate the Learning Green program for schools which utilizes Tower Gardens. http://www.learninggreen.info :)

    Like

    • November 11, 2015 at 11:19 am

      Tower garden would work in our unheated greenhouse in our climate for about 8 months of the year. My guess is that their tall shape would make it more likely for the soil in them to freeze in winter than the soil in our garden beds which have more thermal mass. We would be happily to experiment with one and tell you how it goes!

      Like

  26. Robbin
    November 12, 2015 at 7:51 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your ideas and all you’re doing to grow our next generation. I agree with your approach to preparing kids for our future.

    If you don’t know about it already, you may be interested in Hood River Middle School in Oregon that bases its entire curriculum around permaculture principles. The kids do some gardening, but the gardening is more a vehicle for teaching academics and STEM fields, critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving and social skills, etc. It seems to me that this integrated approach addresses the issues of differing learning styles, “connects the dots” between concepts and application and can encourage creative/divergent thinking. Also, the direct cause and effect of their actions is a valuable lesson for kids.

    It’s all good! Thank you for helping to make Cape Cod a great place to grow and live!

    Like

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