Denver Schools Lead Charge Into School Garden Programs

Not long ago school gardens were few and far between, with only a handful of schools participating in the practice — but now the trend is gaining popularity. Slow Food Denver worked with Denver Public Schools to invent food-safety protocols to ensure food from school gardens could be served in cafeterias, and these guidelines have become the national model, reports Colleen O’Connor from The Denver Post.

“The kids are really excited about it,” said Emily O’Winter, healthy schools coordinator at Jeffco Public Schools, which tested pilot programs at four of its schools last year. “They’re so proud. At the salad bar, they look for their tomatoes from the garden.”

Some schools were hesitant at first because they didn’t understand food safety policy and assumed kids would not be able to handle a harvest or handle the food safely.

This movement started in 201o when Leo Lesh, the director of Denver Public Schools at the time, made the decision to require all cafeterias to switch to scratch cooking and ordered 85 salad bars into schools. He worked with Slow Food Denver to figure out a way to use produce from school gardens by finding a few examples in the country and developing the protocol.

In New York, Annie’s, an organic food company has recently donated $25,000 to help Carson Daly in his mission alongside The National Gardening Association and website Kids Gardening to have a school garden built in every school in Brooklyn, reports the Today Show.

An organization in Wisconsin called Community GroundWorks is making it possible for teachers to learn about gardening and then take that knowledge to their students. It is GroundWorks fifth year and the program involves nearly 150 educators from surrounding schools to come and participate in the weeklong program they provide, reports Fox News.

The program is completely free of charge and it hopes to help increase school gardens by giving teachers training, resources, curriculum and on going support.

“That is a satisfying part of the program in that ripple effect,” Larson said. “By the end of this week everyone leaves feeling more inspired and more equipped to go out and really run these great programs all over the place.”

The Star Journal reports that Wisconsin will also host a School Garden Symposium. It allows professional gardeners and garden educators to offer hands on instruction on how to begin a school garden.  Topics will include seed saving methods, kid friendly gardening activities, how to extend growing season and how to work with schools to set up compost programs and tastings.

“Research has shown that student involvement in gardening increases fruit and vegetable consumption,” she said. “Through gardening, students develop important social skills and a connection to where their food comes from. School gardens can also be a great outdoor classroom for all subjects.”