By Lucinda Greene, Colorado Master Gardener
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the economic fragility of many households. Data from 2019 showed that 8.4% of citizens in Arapahoe County were food insecure, yet 38% of these citizens were above SNAP and other programs’ threshold of 200% of poverty. (Feedingamerica.org, 2021) The economic, social, and healthcare implications resulting from food insecurity are a growing problem in Colorado and the United States. This gap in access to healthy food needs to be addressed. Children facing hunger have additional academic challenges. They may need to repeat a grade, they may experience communication and motor skill impairments, and they may experience higher incidences of behavioral problems. (NEA, n.d.) Local schools are neighborhood hubs. Student-led gardening activities can engage the entire family and community in the practice of growing food. Research shows that supporting school gardens not only increases access to food, but also provides education on healthy and nutritious choices to support student health and academic achievement. (Hazzard et. al., 2012)
In 2021, Master Gardener volunteers in Arapahoe County piloted the School Garden program at Clayton Elementary School in the Englewood School District. Volunteers created and presented learning modules, aligned to state academic standards on composting and pollinators to the kindergarten and third-grade classes. They identified that school gardens could provide multi-generational gardening education to students and families to support STEM education, help reduce food insecurity and improve self-sufficiency. Additional modules on botany and soil science are being developed.
During the Clayton pilot, outdoor student and adult activities in the garden supplemented in-school lessons. Students planted their own vegetable plots and donated the produce to families in the neighborhood and local food banks. Over 800 lbs. of produce was shared with community members or donated to food banks.
“Arapahoe County Master Gardener volunteers brought much-needed educational resources to our garden efforts. Our students knew how to plant seeds, but they didn’t know why bees are beneficial, why composting is so important, or why a pumpkin grows to the size that it does. Students learned so much and were excited and amazed at how much food their plants produced for community food banks. Across the board, this is the best eye-opening thing that has happened this year.” — Lorri Cahill, Secretary and Garden Manager, Clayton Elementary School
Volunteers are eager to share this education with others. Want to learn how Master Gardener volunteers can support your school garden program? Call us at 303-730-1920 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Hazzard, E., Moreno, E., Beall, D., Zidenberg-Cherr, S., Factors contributing to a school’s decision to apply for the California instructional school garden program, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 44, Number 4, 2012, pp. 379-383