Build School Gardens that Contribute to the Menu - Go the Extra Mile

Looking for funding to help you get started?

It might be easiest to start with a simple fundraising program like this one offered by Kids

For more substantial funds, apply for one of the youth garden grants listed here on Kids

If you still can’t find funding, try searching some of the nation’s leading food foundation databases, such as the Community Foundation Locator,, or the Foundation Center.

Be aware of your state’s food code laws—
If you want to actually serve food from your school garden in the cafeteria, then one of the first things you have to do is research the specific state laws about serving homegrown foods. States have differing laws regarding how food is processed, prepared, and cooked.

To find out what the laws are in your state, ask for a copy of the food code from your state’s department of health.

Helpful Tips—
Unity College in Unity, Maine has a successful school garden that provides daily to the cafeteria with potatoes, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, onions, winter squash, lettuce, and other crops. Over the years, they have learned ways to make the garden more useful to the kitchen. The following advice comes from Summer Gardener Sara Trunzo and a 2008 study on local food conducted by Unity College students…
  • First, coordinate with the kitchen ahead of time to see what would be most helpful for them to have so that you know exactly what to grow.

  • Brainstorm which produce items will be easy to use. For example, cherry tomatoes are great for the kitchen to use because they don’t require any slicing or processing preparation-- They only need to be washed.

  • Focus on growing high-value crops that are otherwise expensive to buy from a distributor. Try to grow items that can’t be found cheap locally. For example, in Maine, it doesn’t make much sense to grow potatoes because they take up a lot of space and can be bought cheaply from local, sustainable sources.

  • If your school is already making successful local purchases of certain items, try to grow different items so that you can extend your school’s overall local food consumption.

  • Brainstorm which items are most beneficial for being fresh. For example, produce like lettuce doesn’t stay fresh long on a truck. Therefore, growing it in the garden will ensure a much fresher stock of lettuce for lunch!

  • You need a plan for storing the food efficiently so that it doesn’t all go bad. This can be a trick since each species produces all or most of its fruit or vegetables in a short amount of time. Furthermore, a lot of food might be produced during the summer when the students aren’t even in school. Options for storing food include having a root cellar, which can often be a converted basement, using a food dehydrator, and canning food.

  • If you can’t store all the food until it’s used, then have a plan for making it into something storable that is valuable for kitchen use. For example, Unity College makes and cans 40 pounds of pesto right after harvesting the garlic and basil.

  • Encourage everyone at the school to do their part. At Unity College, Sara Trunzo is constantly inspiring students to participate, no matter how small their contribution. Just an hour or two spent weeding or picking lettuce once a week makes a huge difference.

  • Publicize the garden to the community because parents or old folks in the area might love helping out! Unity College hosted a community garden program to get community members involved.

  • Looks are important! Make the garden look nice because if it looks good, students and community members will have a greater pride in it and be more willing to work hard to see it succeed.

  • Keep in mind that soil building takes time, so be patient with building up the quality of the soil over a couple years.

  • Make the community proud either by showcasing your successes or by helping the community beyond school grounds. For example, through a collaboration with the Regional Volunteer Food Pantry, Unity’s garden provided approximately $350 worth of produce to needy folks in the area.
The Benefits of a Food Dehydrator—
2008 Environmental-Citizen study on local food conducted by Unity College students emphasizes the value of using a food dehydrator to get the most out of your garden. High-end produce items and other non-root vegetables can be grown in abundance, harvested, and stored for year-round use via dehydration.

According to the study, the best candidates for dehydration are fruit and high sugar vegetables that can be easily preserved through the winter and spring.

Dehydrators come in many types, shapes, and sizes. Most of them are just electricity-driven, but some of the newer models can be powered directly from solar heat. No matter what powers them, you operate them by simply placing desired food in the space given and then closing the lid. The food is air-dried by a fan and high temperatures.

Helpful Guides—
The National Gardening Association offers helpful resources for building a garden from the ground up and for making that garden an integral part of the curriculum.

Take advantage of their School Greenhouse Guide to get started.

Then, check out their list of classroom projects based on gardening.

The garden itself can be a rich educational tool, so make sure you get the most out of it by referencing Life Lab Science Program’s tips and resources for educational gardens. Also, watch the school garden videos and other helpful media for examples of garden lessons offered by California School Garden Network and Life Lab Science Program.

The National Gardening Association has a searchable database so you can connect with other school gardeners and learn directly from them!