Kids Who Grow Kale Eat Kale Garden

It’s back to school time in the United States. For many children across the country, it’s also time for them to return to the school garden. Philosophers and educators have held that gardening-based learning increases children’s intelligence, and improves their health. Recent concerns about childhood obesity and the disconnect between young people and nature have rekindled interest in this topic.

Tens of thousands American schools have some sort of school garden. Some are on school grounds, while others are manage by community partners. Many are link to the school’s curriculum. To illustrate, seeds can be use in science classes to explain plant biology; fruits in social studies to teach geography around the world; and harvests in math to study weights and measurements. You can even have food from the garden in school lunches.

I have spent the past decade as an activist and researcher promoting a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system. These challenges have presented me with bold claims about the potential of garden-based learning. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement surrounding garden-base learning. But is it worth looking at their overall impact? Do school gardens really improve education and health for young people?

Promoting School Garden

Schools gardens are a popular strategy for prominent advocates of the Good Food Movement. First Lady Michelle Obama and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver have been vocal supporters. These gardens are a way for food insecure people to get fresh produce. Non profit and grassroots groups have formed partnerships with local schools. There are also service-base groups like Food Corps that spend one year in low-income communities to help create gardens and other school food programs.

American Heart Association and other philanthropic organizations have sponsored hundreds of new school gardens. Together, more than 25% of American public elementary schools offer some sort of garden-based learning. Schools have school gardens in all regions of the country. They serve students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, ages, and ethnicities.

How Can Garden Transform The Lives Of Children?

Advocates claim that gardening can help kids make better eating choices. Ron Finley, a self-described Gangsta Gardener, stated it in his popular TED Talk. Kale is good for kids

Many advocates go further and suggest that gardening-based learning can encourage healthy changes in the whole family, helping reverse the obesity epidemic. Alice Waters, founder of Edible Schoolyard, believes that children’s experiences in the garden can make sustainability the lens through the which they view the world.

Sure, Garden Can Help

Anecdotal evidence suggests that gardening-based learning can yield social, educational, and nutritional benefits. Numerous studies have demonstrated that gardening-based learning can improve students science knowledge as well as their healthy food habits. Research has also shown that garden-based learning can improve students’ ability to identify different kinds of vegetables and lead to more positive opinions about eating vegetables.

The qualitative case studies of garden-based learning are encouraging and provide stories of life-changing experiences for both children and teachers. Quantitative results show only modest gains when it comes to increasing fresh food intake, improving health outcomes, or changing environmental attitudes. The most successful school gardens have shown that students can eat about one serving of vegetables per day. However, the research has not shown whether these gains can be sustain over time.

Some critics argue that school gardens are not worth the effort, particularly for students with lower incomes who could be focusing on traditional college prep courses. Caitlin Flanagan, a social critic, has even suggested that garden programs could be a distraction that could lead to a permanent and uneducated underclass.

There Are No Magic Carrots

It is not difficult to see that garden-base learning can sometimes overrate. Popular narratives suggest that children will be saved from poverty and chronic diseases by spending time in gardens, especially when they are describing projects in low-income communities and communities of colour.

This is what I refer to as the magic carrot approach for garden-based learning. However, magic carrots are not what grow in school gardens. Gardens will not solve the problems of health inequalities, education gaps, unemployment, or environmental injustices on their own.

What Makes A Garden Succeed?

Gardens must be supported by the whole community to promote learning and healthy living. School gardeners have shown that they can improve school and neighbourhood life through surveys. However, this is only possible if certain conditions are met.

School gardens are more successful when they don’t have one teacher to keep them afloat. Multiple stakeholders can help ensure that the garden does not dry out after a few seasons.

A school garden can be transformed by the involvement of families, administrators, and other neighborhood partners into a vibrant and sustainable community hub.

Experiential practitioners also know that garden-based learning can be more effective if its curriculum is reflective of the cultural backgrounds and experiences of the students it serves. Growing food can be a journey of self-discovery for children of Mexican heritage. It can also become a time of cultural celebration when African-American youth grow collard greens.

This means that kale can be grown by children, but they will only eat it if it is affordable in their area, if their family has the money to purchase kale, and if they believe eating kale is appropriate to their culture and lifestyle.

Creating Valuable Green Space

My research has shown that there are schools and organizations across the country who incorporate garden-based learning into larger movements for food, environmental, and social justice.

These groups understand that school gardens will not solve all the nation’s problems. School gardens, as part of a longer-term movement to improve community and health, can be a platform for experiential learning, valuable green space, and foster a sense empowerment in the minds, bodies, and minds of young Americans.