Starting a School Garden Without All the “Stuff”

October 11th, 2010 by Roberta

Children help out at Granny's Garden School in 2008.

In celebration of D.C. School Garden Week 2010, we bring you this post from Roberta Paolo, the executive director of “Granny’s Garden School,” a community garden in Loveland, Ohio, for all of the area’s nearly 1,800 kindergarten through fourth grade students. Roberta’s experiences in Ohio can certainly be applied in the D.C. area, the rest of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and throughout the entire United States!

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School gardens are all the rage right now.  Judging by what is going on in the Greater Cincinnati Area, where I am located, there have to be thousands of new programs being launched across the country this year.

The combination of the impact from the book “Last Child in the Woods” and the resulting groundswell of concern that led to the grassroots development of the organization “Leave No Child Inside” has been compounded by the rising problem with childhood obesity. The concern about global warming has also been topped off by the establishment of a garden on the grounds of the White House, all of which has resulted in an explosion of interest in developing school garden programs.

This is both good and bad. At this time, and in the next couple of years, a lot of money will be invested in school garden programs. Most of this money will be spent to buy “stuff.” It will be used to build raised beds, buy rain barrels, install green houses and/or hoop houses, install rain gardens, grow labs, curriculum and lesson plans and buy all kinds of “kits.”

Every day, there are more companies offering tools, garden boxes, over-priced kits and other supplies targeted to educators with school garden grant money to spend. Could you use a $70 folding fabric wheel barrel? Or how about the $29.95 Potato Planter? Many people will find a rationale to buy these largely unnecessary products using their grant money.

Very little, if any, of the millions of dollars will be spent to pay people to run the programs. When the person with the passion whose enthusiasm powered the garden initiative can no longer volunteer or moves on for whatever reason, the program will be phased out. The grounds people, who are left with the mess to clean up, will be there to say, “I told you so.”  This will make it that much more difficult to get administrators to take a chance the next time a person with a passion comes along with an idea to enrich the school experience for our children.

Starting a school garden program is the easy part and it does not have to take a lot of money. We ran our program the first year on less than $200. You do not need much “stuff” and you can get almost everything you need donated.

Starting a garden program can be as simple as digging a hole and planting a seed.  The real challenge is in sustaining it. If you are up to the challenge, it could be the most rewarding thing you ever do.

Roberta Paolo is the Executive Director of Granny's Garden School in Loveland, Ohio, serving nearly 1,800 K-4th grade students in the community.

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