Sustainable Schools

School Gardens

School Gardens

Chartwells K-12 chefs Josh Perkins (left) and Will Ratley with some young gardeners at the Pattonville (Mo.) Youth Garden, one of the pilot programs associated with Chartwells’ eat. learn. live School Garden Guide.

Growing young minds is a powerful responsibility of school districts across the country and incorporating experiential learning and sustainable practices for students promotes long-term engagement and commitment to sustainable school systems. School gardens are an emerging platform for hands-on, minds-on sustainable education, and Chartwells K12, in collaboration with partner, are bringing the power of school gardens to districts across the country through the “eat. learn. live. School Garden Guide.” The mission is to inspire the next generation to lead healthier lives while providing sustainable, nutritious and educational opportunities to students from coast to coast.

The eat. learn. live. School Garden Guide is based on the philosophy that school gardens serve as valuable education space to cultivate positive health and wellness habits among students and promote sustainable composting, planting, harvesting and consumption practices in schools. The School Garden Guide supports the lifecycle of school gardens from planning, to planting, to harvesting and safe utilization in school cafes creating a sustainable cycle that maximizes garden produce, creating a direct correlation between sustainable school practices and sustainable health and wellness habits for children and the community.

The eat. learn. live School Garden Guide, a 116-page comprehensive playbook, is a backbone for schools interested in starting or enhancing their garden programs and is loaded with instructive and creative sustainable gardening tips, nutrition education materials and guidance for building community garden support. Everything from lemons to bok choy is grown in the gardens, and often served to the students in unique school meal recipes. In fact, some schools are sending nearly 1,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables per year into their own cafes.

Sustainability is a key focus of the program. To efficiently use the resources available, student gardeners learn sustainable gardening skills, like enriching soil naturally, water conservation, minimizing insect and disease problems, and recycling nutrients. In many schools, the leftover fruits and vegetables not eaten or used by chefs are turned into compost and reused in the garden to nourish future rounds of crops. Composting teaches our students to be more conscious of the food they eat and don’t eat, allowing them to think critically about their environmental footprint. This waste-conscious practice is successfully allowing school gardens to become part of circular growing process.

School gardens, however, are more than just opportunities for children to sustainably plant, grow, and harvest their own fruits and vegetables, they also allow schools to better educate students about health, wellness and sustainability — both on and off the plate. Additionally, teachers are incorporating the program into more traditional subjects, like art, biology, botany, chemistry, family and consumer sciences, technology, math and business classes.

Throughout this program, our school administrators have also seen a dramatic shift in the way students approach nutrition and healthy eating. Because the students are exposed to a myriad of fruits and vegetables from an early age, they’re eager to try anything that comes out of the garden. The students have no reservations about eating any of the produce because they’ve played a role in the process. Things some students may shy away from, are treated like more familiar foods — and they’re picking and eating some of them right off the vine! Because of the garden program, students are invested in their own nutrition and feel a sense of ownership in the work they put into growing their own food.

Schools employing the garden program have seen unprecedented success teaching their students about the importance of wellness and sustainable practices through gardening. School gardens are proving to be a vital component in a sustainable food system — K-12 schools are a seedbed for advancing sustainable practices and shaping the future of the environment. By instilling sustainable values in the K-12 generation, educators are giving students the opportunity to better understand their roles in the ecosystem and the resources to further their responsibility to the natural world.

For more information or to download the free garden guide for your school, please visit

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Margie Saidel serves as vice president of Culinary, Nutrition and Sustainability for Chartwells K12, one of the nation’s largest foodservice providers for K-12 school systems. Margie brings more than 20 years of experience in nutrition education and sustainable practices to the foodservice industry.

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