Reaping benefits beyond the classroom

A school garden can be an exciting hands-on learning activity that can help young children see the benefits of growing their own nutritious foods. According to the Wisconsin School  Garden Initiative program, over 200 schools statewide have school gardens with more  starting each year.
Garden party at State Road Elementary School in La Crosse with Miss Seven  Rivers 2013, Jenna Mills.
Garden party at State Road Elementary School in La Crosse with Miss Seven Rivers 2013, Jenna Mills.

In the La Crosse School District, Summit Environmental School students harvest produce from their garden. At State Road Elementary and Hamilton SOTA I Elementary schools, Grow Your Brain, a local non-profit organization promoting nutrition education, works with the schools to increase healthy eating for children through garden programming and integrating the garden into the curriculum, healthy snacks, the cafeteria and outdoor activity.

In Holmen, all four elementary schools, the middle school and the high school have outdoor gardens. The gardens are learning laboratories that produce healthy food that is served in the student lunchrooms. Students take ownership and will more likely make better food choices. At the high school, salad bar lettuce comes from a hydroponic lettuce garden housed in the school greenhouse and maintained by agriculture students. In off-campus gardens FFA (Future Farmers of America) students plant and grow enough sweet corn to feed all the students in the district. A national Seeds of Change grant has enabled the district to expand its gardening to raising chickens that will be processed and served in the district’s cafeterias.

The West Salem School District also offers students healthier lunch options including a garden bar, which has a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which come from the school garden. These efforts started in 2011 when West Salem Elementary School won the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s HealthierUS School Challenge Gold Award of Distinction—the only school in Wisconsin to win this award. The district has a greenhouse in which students start plantings that are then used in a West Salem community garden and in the elementary school garden. The Farm2 School grant has allowed the district to purchase produce and beef from local farms.

Other area schools incorporate gardening and healthy eating into their programs, including
Cathedral Elementary, in the Aquinas Catholic Schools system, where students tend a raised-bed garden and involve parent volunteers.

Some La Crosse schools, including Coulee Montessori and La Crosse Design Institute, take their students to community gardens such as Washburn Community Garden to give their students hands-on gardening experience. For the past four years in the spring and fall, Longfellow Middle School students have helped out at the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) Villa garden on St. Joseph Ridge.

An example of the many benefits school gardens bring to the classroom and beyond:

“The Onalaska School Gardens serve to encourage good nutrition through promoting greater consumption of fresh local produce, to teach students how to grow their own produce, and to support the existing science curriculum. The program consists of four projects. At the elementary level, students grow salad greens and radishes for the salad bar during the school year. In the summer, families are invited to care for the gardens that have been replanted with warm season vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and beans. Families are allowed to take the produce they harvest and prepare it at home. The third project is a large scale asparagus garden that was installed as an eighth grade class project and later cared for by sixth graders. The asparagus will be served in the school cafeteria when it is mature. Lastly, as part of a ‘Life Skills’ class, high school students grow vegetable and herb seedlings in the school greenhouse to be sold to high school staff in a highly anticipated plant sale. In 2011, a vermiculture project began as a collaboration between elementary students and high school math students. Onalaska elementary students traveled to Hillview’s vermicompost facility to learn from their high-volume vermicompost operation.”

Jodie Visker, District Garden Coordinator School District of Onalaska

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