Photo by lyndalaughlin.

The District is home to numerous community gardens and farmer’s markets. There is also a growing movement for the “greening” of schoolyards across the District through gardens at school sites. School gardens can serve as learning laboratories to promote the consumption of fresh produce as well as be used for academic instruction in areas of science, math, environmental studies, and health.

The Watkins Living School Yard, at Watkins Elementary School in Capitol Hill, is one of the most established school gardens in the District. The garden has been around for close to 15 years. Barbara Percival, garden coordinator, said the garden started as a small butterfly garden and today the school is surrounded on three sides by over twenty theme gardens.

Starting this year, with the help of FRESHFARMS Markets, Watkins will be planting an “edible schoolyard.”  An edible schoolyard is basically a vegetable garden, but the idea behind it is that the students will plant, maintain, harvest, cook, eat, donate the food and will learn language arts, math, science, nutrition, etc. at the same time.  The goal is both to enhance student learning and to improve eating habits. The teachers use the gardens to supplement their curriculum throughout the year, depending on level of interest and experience, and the season. Teachers will also do activities in the classroom that relate to the gardens. For example, students are given cooking lessons using produce from the garden.

School gardens like the one at Watkins require long-term commitment and effort on part of the school administration and community, but the positive outcomes are well worth the effort. Research indicates that edible gardens increase the consumption of vegetables and help students establish critical social and emotional bonds with other students and teachers. School gardens could also improve academic performance because they promote learning about scientific concepts such as photosynthesis, soil content, etc. For urban areas, a school garden can enhance the physical environment by providing vegetation instead of concert as well as deter vandalism.

Schools face a number of challenges in the implementation of garden programs. Funding, volunteers, and willing teachers are needed for success. School Garden Wizard

, a partnership between the United States Botanic Garden and the Chicago Botanic Garden, provides helpful information and tools on how teachers, parents, and community member can start and maintain a school garden.