Community Gardens: Growing an Educational Community

Contributed by Heather Woods (Fall 2015)

Last week, I had to opportunity to attend a workshop on “How to Start a Community Garden” with Jordan Bouchard from Just Food (Twitter: @bouch137). The hour was packed full of information, from how a community garden may contribute to comprehensive school health and how to start thinking about and planning a community garden within your school or community. Jordan demonstrated how community gardening satisfies all the pillars of Comprehensive School Health.

Social and Physical Environment/Healthy School Policy

Whether planting a food or a flower garden, the addition of the garden will add to the physical space within the school. A garden creates not only an additional learning tool for students, but adds a natural and calming space for students and staff. As Jordan mentioned, gardening is therapeutic and can be a constructive and positive stress reliever.

Additionally, the community garden can help to build relationships as students, staff, and community partners work together to tend and care for the garden. Community gardens, whether within a school or a broader community context, help to build community bonds between the individuals involved. They are working together and taking responsibility for something that they can watch grow and flourish as a product of their efforts.

Teaching and Learning

Not only can a community garden help to facilitate positive relationships between students and staff, it can be used as a great learning tool. Jordan discussed how community gardens can teach children about food security, nutrition, and environmental sustainability. While listening to the presentation, you couldn’t help but think of all the ways a garden could be utilized to teach to the science curriculum (e.g., life cycle of plants, photosynthesis, decomposition/compost, ecosystems, bugs!) or health education (e.g., knowing where your food comes from, how to prepare certain foods). The possibilities are endless!

Partnerships and Service

Within the school context, a community garden allows for the school to network and collaborate with community partners who may help support not only the development of the garden, but children’s learning experiences as well. Schools may approach local suppliers (seeds, soil, lumber) to form partnerships, not only to provide supplies, but perhaps give students an opportunity to see where these supplies come from or how they are made. Additionally, partnerships may be made with the local businesses to help finance the garden.

Things to Consider When Implementing a School/Community Garden

  • Gardening team: to keep the project going; make connections with the community resources; who takes care of it in the summer.
  • Physical space: sun, flat (but not low) area, wind, soil contamination (can be absorbed by some plants; these areas can be planted with raised beds), access and accessibility, parking (existing), site plan
  • Ownership considerations: Who do you need to report to regarding planting? Bureaucracies? If unable to plant on school property, where within the community might you be able to?
  • Building community support: Approach organizations (clubs, societies, counsellors, businesses); bigger companies may be interested in supporting environmentally friendly initiatives; funding