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Gardening in Schools & Early Care Sites
Get Started with a School Garden
Looking to start a new garden project? You’re in the right place for resources and tips on how to build a sustainable, educational, and empowering place for students. Check out the links below!
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Featured Illinois Gardens
Beautiful gardens are growing across the state! Check out the case studies below to get inspired. Do you have a garden story to share? Contact email@example.com to be featured below!
Troy Galvin, Spring Lake CCSD 606’s building and maintenance supervisor, sole custodian and now chief gardener, is the leading frontier in the school’s farm-to-cafeteria program. Two years ago, Galvin and the school’s head cook, Teresa McAdams, discussed opportunities for utilizing the open, large grassy area behind the school. As a fourth generation farmer, Galvin felt turning the 1,000 square foot space into a garden would the best use of the space as it would be beneficial to the students and faculty. With the help of the University of Illinois Extension, hardworking volunteers, community support and generous donors, their school garden was built.
The garden consists of tomatoes, green beans, strawberries, sweet potatoes, peppers, garlic, zucchini, squash, kohlrabi (to name a few), and an orchard with more than twenty pear, peach and apple trees. There’s also a small pollinator garden that was created by local Girl Scouts and continued by a first grade teacher.
The produce grown in the garden is then used for meals in the cafeteria, creating a farm-to-cafeteria program. With Spring Lake Elementary School being smaller than most – an enrollment of 50 students total and a grade average of 10 – it is easier for them to provide healthy, home made meals for lunch periods. This program has not only saved the school money, but it has provided healthier options and exposed children to new foods they may not have tried otherwise, like kohlrabi and sweet potato pie.
The garden has provided a fun, hands-on opportunity for the Spring Lake children to learn and connect with food and nature. Galvin hosts a class every few weeks in the garden to educate students on how to start a seed, watch it grow and then harvest it. The students’ excitement for the garden has grown it into a labor of love. When Galvin began the garden he felt if he “taught one kid the importance of gardening and encouraged them to start their own, then it would all be worthwhile.” Since then, Galvin has educated and inspired a number of kids and adults; many kids have gone home and asked their parents if they could start their own garden.
Spring Lake Elementary School’s successful garden program is unique but also obtainable by any school, big or small. Having a dedicated Farm to School champion can make all the difference, and every community has a distinct set of resources and people dedicated to supporting its youth in nutrition education and access to healthy food. If you’re interested in growing a garden program at your child feeding site and would like help or resources, reach out to us at the Illinois Farm to School Network.
Photos courtesy of Troy Galvin.
East Aurora High School in Kane County is growing their salad ingredients right on-site! Staff and community volunteers plus nearly 200 student volunteers have been cultivating the EASD 131 Gardens Galore! since 2015. They’ve planted 38 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs and produced 900 pounds!
The garden has been effective in involving student responsibility and education on the process of food from farm to school or table. Students have volunteered over summer breaks, study halls, after school, and as classrooms to contribute to this food procurement. The garden has goals of extending the growing season all year by building tower gardens for the in classroom.
In Madison County, students of the Farm to School Gardening Club at Lincoln Middle School rolled up their sleeves and built a garden! These proactive students educated themselves on the process of farming and became experts on a variety of agricultural plants.
Teachers stressed the importance of the students learning the entire process of how food ends up on their tables, starting with growing that food themselves from seed. The Gardening Club hopes to establish a selling relationship with a local market and are developing a curriculum to incorporate these lessons into other disciplines. Lincoln Middle School is doing a fantastic job of teaching students to appreciate the process of how food ends up on their plate! See photos here.
Students at Westmont High School in DuPage County, Illinois are growing food indoors and out!
Lisa Hootman, science teacher, manages the Westmont High School garden program Earth to School. Westmont has expanded their garden from 8 raised outdoor beds to 16. They added indoor hydroponics incorporating high school curriculum from biology, chemistry, environmental science, math, and business. In the fall, the school donates part of their harvest to the People’s Resource Center in Westmont. They also hold an autumn Farmer’s Market in conjunction with school athletic activities. The garden is truly year-round and also feeds the students in the form of classroom tastings, and on the lunch line! Lisa worked with a company called Root 66, based in Brookfield, to install the hydroponic garden. Westmont High School is doing great work teaching students how to grow and eat more veggies!