Mulch underfoot, sun in their hair, twenty kindergarteners beam with excitement at the sight of their new school garden. This colorful space, lined with garden beds, fruit trees, and a brightly painted mural just appeared, seemingly overnight. Though the students may not have witnessed the transformation, the parents, teachers, and volunteers involved know exactly the hard work and planning required to turn the empty space into full outdoor garden classroom in just one morning.
Across the country, this scene unfolded two dozen times this fall through the Sprouts 24 Gardens in 24 Cities program. Over 600 individuals participated in the garden builds which happened throughout September and October, a culmination of a months-long effort between the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation and participating schools. From a list of over 3,000 customer nominations, the selected 24 schools completed intensive interviews, garden design exercises, and a readiness assessment before being approved for the project.
Since 2015, the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation has focused on supporting school gardening programs which encourage hands-on learning and help bring nutrition education to life. So, why school gardens? Research has found that school gardens increase students’ fruit and vegetable consumption, improve academic engagement, and support social and emotional health.
“These schools represent 24 incredible communities, comprised of teachers and students, that will now have access to an outdoor garden, where classroom lessons can be brought to life through hands-on learning, and where students can experience the magic of watching seeds sprout, and fresh fruits and vegetables grow. We are glad we can play a role in making this possible,” said Lyndsey Waugh, executive director of the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation.
To round out the program’s structure, Sprouts brought on youth gardening experts, KidsGardening, to advise the schools, pulling from their 30+ years of experience. KidsGardening provides technical support for youth garden programs nationwide, and they will continue to play an important role for the 24 Sprouts grantees through monthly meetings and an online discussion board.
A final distinguishing element of this program is the $5,000 stipend available to recipient schools for professional development or garden educator support.
“Sprouts is a true partner who listens and understand what it takes to operate a successful garden program – and investing in teacher training and compensation for educators operating their garden spaces is the key ingredient to building effective and sustainable school garden programs,” said Em Shipman, executive director of KidsGardening.
The garden build days were full of celebration and a shared excitement between school representatives and Sprouts volunteers. Together, volunteers moved wheelbarrows of mulch, built over 150 garden beds, and arranged beautiful pathways and seating areas to create 24 unique learning spaces. Through this grant program, 12,000 additional students are on their way to receiving hands-on garden education this year.
Visit the 24 Gardens in 24 Cities webpage to view additional workday photos, and stay tuned for updates on grantees and information about how your school can get involved.