Introduction: Community School Gardens
The traditional purpose of gardens was to grow and cultivate plants for food and medicine. For centuries, it has provided individuals with the opportunity to learn more about the environment and better appreciate nature. Gardens have become a widespread practice in schools across the globe. Implementing garden-based teaching incorporates concrete experiences that contribute to the understanding of many topics in the classroom curriculum. It is interesting to see how school gardens can differ between regions and how a global pandemic has impacted school gardens. Families have turned to gardening to ease the mental and emotional strain that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on residents when the need for education surrounding nutrition and health is more critical than ever. Overall, this article aims to analyze the impact school gardens have on an individual’s wellbeing and environmental awareness.
Benefits and Challenges
School gardens can have a positive impact on an individual’s mental health providing students with a sense of autonomy as well as a feeling of belonging. The advantages of school gardens are numerous. For instance, a study done by UNICEF reported that the average happiness for children is the highest for children who play outdoors. Moreover, the memorable learning experiences provided by a school garden helps students link their learning to their feelings. Such engaging experiences like these stay with the students as they grow up and affect their behavior and lifestyle. They also influence the students’ values and decision-making skills. When students are given opportunities to take care of and maintain a school garden, they develop an increased sense of responsibility towards the environment and improve their social interaction skills by working in groups and communicating their experiences. They also experience enjoyment from watching their products grow and sharing their produce with their community. Additionally, school gardens can instill healthy eating habits in students by exposing them to fruits and vegetables, which makes them favor natural produce. However, the benefits of school gardens are still not enough to overcome the challenges that are facing these gardens. For example, school gardens suffer from a lack of funding from the school districts and those gardens rely on contributions from the community members. In addition, school gardens are constrained by the national curriculum guidelines that do not allow teachers to try different approaches with their students.
School Gardens Across the World
School gardens supply outdoor learning and access to healthy food for students and local communities. As the global food supply chains have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, access to healthy food options and nutrition is more important than ever. Outdoor learning and school gardens help fill nutritional gaps in places where access to healthy food may be limited, while also supplying recreation, stress reduction opportunities and supply a safe outdoor learning environment, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the international level, the World Food Programme has supported Home Grown School Feeding initiatives at the community level. These initiatives work to promote nutrition education and better eating habits, and encourage the diversification of production with a special emphasis on local crops. Community involvement, in turn, enhances the sustainability of programs.
Many countries decided to tackle the challenges of food security by educating the younger members of society on how to grow their own crops. Indeed, across many countries, we have seen an increase in school community gardens due to the current spread of the COVID- 19 pandemic. For example, children in El Salvador have grown vegetable gardens in the communities and inspired young people and adults in seeking to replicate their initiative to secure their food and avoid the high market prices affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, at least 700 children from across India are now bound together in a microgreens project initiated by Chennai-based E-zone India, a company that does environment projects with and for school children. Founder Hafiz Khan says that the lockdown helped to convert the program into live WhatsApp video sessions with students from anywhere in the world learning how to nurture their school gardens and home gardens. Another example is happening in Papua New Guinea, in the city of Lae, where the launch of a new garden program for secondary schools represents an approach to reduce outside dependence on the external food supply and building community hubs that can help the health and economic recovery from the pandemic.
Since multiple countries are undertaking similar projects, we are left asking how the meaning of school gardens has changed during these challenging times? Children used to be involved in gardening projects at school to be close to nature and enjoy outdoor activities. Now though, learning how to grow your own food is essential for your survival, not just a mere hobby. Children are understanding the importance of learning how to nurture a garden and grow their own food. Indeed, their experience is leading them to be the protagonist of food security and sovereignty in their community, and they are proving to be engaged and successful in such endeavors.
It is imperative to acknowledge the influence school gardens have on students and their understanding of the environment. Schools across the nation have been implementing outdoor learning into their curriculum. This hands-on teaching style has displayed several benefits for the individuals involved. It has created a sense of community during this global pandemic. There are several challenges that could arise when trying to implement a new school garden. Funding and government policies are some of the leading problems preventing schools from executing this learning technique. However, around the world, schools are trying to overcome these obstacles and standardize the use of school gardens. As previously mentioned, gardening has become much more than just a hobby. Not only does it result in the production of food, but it has also become a new teaching method for the younger generations.
This article is part of our March 2021 Western Student Editorial Series – a series that showcases the works of students in the Collaborative Specialization in Environment and Sustainability program. Read more articles from this series here!
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Patricia completed her Bachelor of Science from the University of Windsor with Honours in Biology. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Biology at Western University, and she’s a part of the collaborative program in Environment and Sustainability. Her research focuses on age differences in stopover and flight behavior in Black-Throated Blue Warblers. Outside of academia, she enjoys traveling, hiking, and reading.
Mariam Takkouch is a first year MA student in Curriculum studies at Western University and she’s part of the collaborative program in Environment and Sustainability. Her main research interest centers on school gardens and environmental education. She is a previous Science and Biology teacher. Mariam Takkouch holds a bachelor’s degree in biology with an emphasis on plants and a teaching diploma in secondary education from The American University of Beirut.