Image of wheat

Garden Module
To complement the history lessons, your students are going to become farmers through the creation of a school garden (outdoor or indoor) designed to simulate a working farm. The activities revolve around the creation of a 'farm' distinguished from a garden by including a focus on producing a marketable crop. The crop you choose can vary, but the exercises look at the garden as a business so students can have a true sense of what it would be like to be a farmer.

Some examples of possible 'school farm' garden projects include (but certainly are not limited to):

  • Grow salad vegetables like lettuce, carrots and radishes (indoor or outdoor) and then sell fresh produce or host a fundraiser salad party.
  • Grow herbs (indoor and outdoor) and turn them into craft projects like potpourri or sachets to sell.
  • Produce potted house plants from cuttings (indoor) and sell them for a holiday such as Mother's Day or Valentine's Day.
  • Grow annual flowers from seed (indoor) and sell the small plants when it is time to transplant them outside.

For more ideas visit: http://www.kidsgardening.com/ themes/business1.asp

Although the opportunity to sell the harvest to other friends, family, teachers and volunteers is a valuable experience and money raised can be used to fund the garden program in future years, if school policy prohibits selling your harvest for money you can also:

  • Trade harvest for other goods and services. For instance, students can trade their harvest for a special movie afternoon. The traded harvest could then be given to teachers or other staff in the school. Trading of the harvest can be a good history lesson as many early farmers would trade for materials in addition to selling harvest for money.
  • Estimate the value of the crop and then donate to a local senior center or food pantry and receive a receipt for the donation.
  • Sell to each other with pretend money. Price your products and then give each student a set amount of 'money' they can use to purchase products to take home.

By creating a purpose for the harvest, you introduce your students to the responsibility and pressure real life farmers experience. With a successful crop, they will learn about the excitement and rewards of being a farmer and if your crop fails, they will discover a very valuable lesson - farming is a hard way of life and some times environmental factors are beyond human control. To make sure you experience success, you may choose to 'diversify' your farm and choose more than one marketable crop to produce (diversification is another valuable farm life lesson, discuss the saying: "Don't put all your eggs in one basketL").

Getting Started: So where do you begin? Begin your school farm project by first receiving approval from all necessary administrators. Discuss your vision with principals or other supervisors and make sure they are on board with your new venture.

Once you receive the stamp of approval, focus on creating a support team. Garden programs are usually more work than 1 person can sustain, so to ensure success, enlist other teachers, parents and community volunteers to serve on a planning and advisory committee. Members of this team may take an active role in helping you find supplies, teach lessons and maintain garden areas, or they may serve as a resource for ideas and help with promoting your project to other parents and in the community. Both types of members are vital to garden operations.

Another person to approach early on about your program is the school custodian or janitor. Many teachers note a good relationship with the custodian can be valuable in accessing resources (like storage closets and water sources) and by having an extra set of eyes to help keep on eye on gardens. On the flip side, if a custodian is not involved, you run the risk he/she will feel your garden is creating additional work for them and they may find ways to make your program more difficult (for instance not allowing you access to storage space or by complaining to administrators about the garden mess).

Make sure to contact and involve any one who may have a stake in your program. Another group of potential key supporters are the people who live in the neighborhood around the school. They may be especially helpful for maintenance during vacations and other breaks.

The first task of your new committee is to create a clear set of goals and link the school farm to the curriculum. Once you have a clear set of goals, you need to decide what kind of growing space will best fit your resources. Gardens can either be indoor or outdoor. Your indoor garden options include windowsill gardens, prefabricated Grow Labs or do-it-yourself light tables. Your outdoor options include in ground beds, raised beds and container gardens.

Indoor Gardens: Creating indoor gardens is a good option for schools in locations experiencing long winters and short growing seasons during the school year. The simplest form of indoor gardening is to place plants in front of windows that receive a decent amount of light. Windows that face south and west are best and they usually receive enough light to grow leaf and root vegetables (beets, carrots, lettuce, onions and radishes) and herbs. East and north facing windows do not receive as much light, so they will limit your planting options to mostly houseplants, however, houseplants can be an exciting and rewarding crop. You will need to spend a few days monitoring your window space to determine how much light is available for an indoor garden.

Grow lights (fluorescent tube lights designed to hang low over growing areas) are a more effective way to produce indoor crops. You can purchase prefabricated GrowLabs (the National Gardening Association's Kids Gardening Store sells a number of different models for schools available at: http://store.yahoo.com/nationalgardening/growlab.html) or you can make your own. With grow lights, you can control the amount of light your plants receive and can expand your crop options to fruit crops like tomatoes and strawberries.

Check out these web links for more information on growing indoor gardens:

NGA's Indoor Seed Starting FAQ:

University of Missouri Lighting Indoor Houseplants:

Growing in the Garden — Local Connections:

Low-Cost Grow-Light Frame Plans from Cornell University:

Indoor Gardening Publications from Cornell University:

or check your local library for the books GrowLab®: A Complete Guide to Gardening in the Classroom and GrowLab®: Activities for Growing Minds.

Outdoor Gardens: The traditional outdoor garden is planted in the ground of a school yard. Unless the area has been cultivated before, you will need a tiller to break the compacted soil before you begin planting.

Another option commonly used by schools is to create gardens in raised beds. Raised beds are built by creating 4-sided, framed structures usually 1 to 2 feet high using materials such as rot resistant wood (like cedar), concrete blocks and recycled plastic 'wood' and then filling them with soil. Raised beds can be built over soil or on top of concrete or asphalt surfaces. Although raised beds are more expensive than planting directly in the ground, they do offer a number of benefits. You can choose your own soil making them easier to cultivate and eliminating worries about possible toxins such as lead. Raised beds usually have fewer weed and drainage problems. Additionally, they can be designed to be handicap accessible. Also, plants in raised beds are usually more protected from running feet. For more information about raised beds visit: http://www.hort.vt.edu/human/pub426020d.html

Another outdoor option is to plant in containers. Examples of common containers include clay and plastic pots, and large wooden barrels, however, you can use anything that holds soil and has drainage holes. You can even use even an old bathtub. If you experience warm days, but cold nights, you can create an indoor/outdoor garden by growing plants in buckets with handles or pots with wheels and transport plants outdoors during the day and indoors at night. For ideas on planting container gardens visit: http://www.kidsgardening.com/growingideas/projects/feb03/pg1.html

School Garden Tips:

  • Start SMALL! Plan for a big garden in choosing your space but start very small. Don't exhaust the enthusiasm of your students and volunteers by preparing soil and removing weeds on a large area. Let them get excited about the joy of a bountiful, FUN, small garden. Then expand as your confidence and experience increases.
  • Involve Your Students. Involve your students in as many of the planning steps as possible. Teachers across the country have discovered that when students are involved in all stages of the process, they are more invested in the project's success and inspired to care for and respect their schoolyard gardens. The more they can participate in the planning, the more they will feel like 'farmers.'