Principles of Edible Education from the Edible Schoolyard Garden

I love Alice Waters‘ book, Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea. Worth noting (below) are the principles of Edible Education that she lays out in the book.

Food is an Academic Subject

A school garden, kitchen, and cafeteria are integral to the core academic mission of the school, so that ecology and gastronomy help bring alive every subject, from reading and writing to science and art.

School Provides Lunch for Every Child

From preschool through high school, every child is served a wholesome, delicious meal, every day. Good food is a right not a privilege. Providing it every day brings children into a positive relationship with their health, their community, and the environment.

Schools Support Farms

pulling up carrots

School cafeterias buy seasonally fresh food from local, sustainable farms and ranches, not only for reasons of health and education, but as a way of strengthening local food economies.

Children Learn by Doing

Hands-on education, in which the children themselves do the work in the vegetable beds and on the cutting boards, awakens their senses and opens their minds, both to their core academic subjects and to the world around them.

Beauty is a Language

A beautifully prepared environment, where deliberate thought has gone into everything from the garden paths to the plates on the tables, communicates to children that we care about them.

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Combating Nature-Deficit Disorder in the Garden

According to author Richard Louv, the greatest increase in childhood obesity in our history has occurred in the same two decades that the greatest increase in organized sports for children in our history. “Pediatricians are now saying that this generation of children may be the first to have a lower life expectancy than their parents and its because of this sedentary lifestyle.”

Watering EggplantsStudies show that kids connected to nature have

  • Better Concentration
  • Less Stress
  • More Creativity
  • and Higher Self-Esteem

than those children not exposed to the same natural world experiences.

While increasing our children’s physical activity and eating right is important, connecting them to the ecosystem that they are a part of is crucial.

An edible schoolyard garden provides that connection while serving as an outdoor science learning laboratory. Our youngest (pre-school) students strengthen and develop their hand-eye coordination, gross motor, tactical and sensorial skills by gardening.

In the edible garden from seed planting to the time of harvest, the children have the opportunity to observe the life cycle of plants. In nature, waste equals food, so the young children are able to observe the interdependence of ecosystems. They learn about soil composition and chemistry. Through composting and mulching they begin to learn about decomposition.

Edible schoolyard gardening allows students hands-on experience with concepts such as evaporation, propagation, biodiversity, companion planting and pollination. They are introduced to the process of photosynthesis. In a garden, students learn to follow and chart the life cycles butterflies, worms and other creatures.

Bean Growth Chart-KindergartenThe garden provides the children the chance to take the concepts that they are learning in the classroom and put these into practical applications. As early as preschool, students learn to blend abstract concepts with the concrete and tangible realities in nature. Students can record their observations from the garden into a science journals. Through drawings, they can chart the daily grown of their plants from seeds into sprouts into plants.

Another benefit of your edible schoolyard garden:  You will never have to worry that your students will answer,”from the grocery store” in response to the question, “where do vegetables come from?”

Additional reading:


QUEST on KQED Public Media.


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Natural Pest Control in your Edible Schoolyard Garden

Chemicals are toxic and abound everywhere. People apply pesticides and herbicides often without thinking about the consequences. The purpose of your organic edible schoolyard garden is to connect students with both nature and their food supply. It is also a place for thoughtful contemplation for the students. Commit to using natural means to control pests.

Most insects in your garden are beneficial, so you want to isolate the unwanted pest rather than blanket spraying everything. Not every pest needs to be sprayed. Caterpillars can be hand-picked off tomato and other plants.

Mild soaps and vegetable oils are a good option. Soap needs to contact an insect to kill it. It is a physical damage to the insect not a poison. That is why you need to apply the soap directly to the insect. Oils work the same way and accomplish the same goal. Oils are a good means to get rid of scale on a plant.

There are many natural insecticidal soaps and oils available commercially. You can also make your own by mixing 2 tablespoons of a mild soap in a gallon of water. You can create an oil spray by mixing the same ratio of vegetable oil in water. Some people add ground garlic or cayenne pepper to their sprays. I have some how-to videos on my YouTube – My Earthprints Channel under the Garden playlist, if you are curious to see how they do it.

Reduce your chances of a pest outbreak by  following the principles of companion planting and creating a garden full of  biodiversity. If you have only tomatoes in your garden (monocropping), then your plants are more susceptible to a tomato pest.

Edible School Garden Grants and Donations

Our Fence Looking for some extra money to finance your schoolyard garden project? Try to unearth a grant to pay for your expenses.

Begin your search at KidsGardening.org or the National Gardening Association. Both maintain a database of current grants available for schoolyard garden projects.

There is also your local farm bureau. A county farm bureau may provide seed donations for projects.  As a Master Gardener Volunteer, I was lucky enough to receive seeds and a small cash grant  from the Broward Farm Bureau to fund  schoolyard garden projects on several occasions.

Some seed companies donate seeds to school garden projects. Generally, seed companies will donate seeds from the previous planting season that did not sell. While most of these seeds will germinate without a problem, you don’t have a choice of what seeds you get. If you are open to trying some new things, this is a good option to pursue.

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Listed below are some seed and garden supply companies. Some have seed donation programs.

ARBICO Organics Garden Supply  800-827-2847

GardensAlive.com 513-354-1482

High Mowing Organic Seeds 802-472-6174

Home Harvest Garden Supply 517-332-2663

Irish Eyes Garden Seeds 509-933-7150

Johnny’s Selected Seeds 877-564-6697

Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply 888-784-1722

Seed Savers Exchange 563-382-5990

Seeds of Change 888-762-7333

Seeds Trust 928-6498-3315

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange 540-894-9480

Territorial Seed Company 541-942-9547

The Cook’s Garden 800-457-9703

Tomato Growers Supply Company 888-478-7333 or 888-768-3476

Totally Tomatoes 800-345-5977

Vermont Bean Seed Company 800-349-1071

Victory Seeds™ 503-829-3126

Don’t overlook local nurseries and local big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes when you are searching for garden donations. You might be pleasantly surprised with what you receive.

Also, and most importantly, while parent and community volunteers are helpful to the success of a garden project, my experience shows that the most crucial team member is a school staffer to oversea the garden. If the school administration supports the project, there will need to be someone there to regularly water and check the plants, especially  over long weekends and holiday breaks.

I’ve seen many gardens struggle and be left behind because the volunteer moved on and there was no one left to  maintain the project. If all parties have  a vested interest in the project’s success, your garden will thrive.

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