As we send our kids back to school, many of them will be harvesting fall crops from gardens they planted the previous spring.

Schoolyard gardens aren’t a new idea, but they have been regaining ground as we realize the distance between kids and healthy habits. This often parallels the distance between kids and where their food comes from. To this end countless teachers, the Minnesota Schoolyard Garden Coalition, and the Minnesota Farm to School legislation are working together to get our kids growing more food. 

The USDA reported just over 5,000 registered school gardens in the United States last year. Currently, our district has seven elementary school gardens, a straw bale garden at Central, plus the gardens at Tamarack Nature Center that are used in curriculum.

The kids are all in, and it’s easy to see why…

There is something magical about nurturing seeds to grow into plants. Getting to work with nature and see real world results empowers children in lasting ways. Eating from those plants is the cherry on top of the gardening experience. 

Dawn Maple, kindergarten teacher and one of the original garden planters at Matoska IB World School says, “Gardening with children helps them not only learn about where their food comes from, but it also allows them to see themselves as scientists! They show compassion as they carefully plant a tiny seed and nurture it as it grows. They develop an appreciation for the insects that are part of the garden we all share. They are risk takers as they try a basil leaf or nasturtium flower that has grown in our garden. But most of all, they share the joy of caring for other living things!”

Maple hits on a deep truth; how the chance to SHARE the joys and struggles of the garden is inseparable from the gardening experience in a school garden. Finding worms, seeing a plant’s roots, or tasting what you grew are all better when shared. I’ve seen first-hand how this sharing energizes kids in the garden. 

Beyond the positive energy manifested in the gardens- which is a real and valuable aspect, there are also a myriad of STEM concepts brought to life. Starting with planning the garden space right through to harvesting kids are working with math and critical thinking skills- plus many other scientific concepts. Then there are the proven benefits with being outside; antidepressant soil microbes that reduce stress levels, increased vitamin D intake and making healthier eating choices because of time spent working in a garden.

Having this connection to nature, while being in community with their peers in a classroom setting gives kids the foundation to respect our earth in a way that can lead to big picture changes. They start asking about pesticide use, safe water, composting, and of course they perpetually ask the same question all gardeners ask, ‘is that tomato ripe yet?’

In celebration of our local community and school gardens BearPower and its partners are hosting a Harvest Party on Sunday, September 22 from 12-3 at the YMCA Community gardens. Search Bear Power or Forks in the Dirt on Facebook for event details.

I can’t wait to see what our community kids grow this schoolyear, knowing each garden planted creates a space for kids’ learning to take off like that fabled beanstalk.

 

Michelle Bruhn is the founder of Forks in the Dirt, a local food and garden information clearinghouse designed to help you dig your food. More info at forksintehdirt.com

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