School Gardens: Preparing Kids for Climate Change

Teaching Skills for a Sustainable Future

by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
October 23, 2019
Teenaged climate activist, Greta Thunberg, holds a sign: school strike for climate. School Gardens: Preparing Kids for Climate Change.

Greta Thunberg, outside the Swedish parliament. Her sign reads, “school strike for climate”.

School gardens now have a new role: help prepare young people for climate change. As the global climate warms, the world faces an urgent need for increased food security, sustainability, and environmental stewardship. By instilling kids with skills that support ecological balance, school gardens can be an effective program for meeting the challenge.

It’s clear that climate change is an issue of grave concern to children. In September 2019, millions of young people gathered worldwide to demand action to prevent further global warming. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager who began her one-person “school strike for the climate” outside the Swedish parliament in 2018, the protest has grown into an international School Strike for the climate movement of millions. Children want to do something about climate change. When young people work together to grow food and learn sustainable practices, they become part of the climate change solution.

How School Gardens Got Started

"Children's Garden" sign. School Gardens: Preparing Kids for Climate Change.Educators have long embraced school gardens as a way to teach children about nature, science, and healthy foods. As early as 1840, the German educator Friedrich Froebel coined the term “kindergarten” (children’s garden) to describe his educational practice of using gardens and games to develop children’s intelligence. These ideas spread rapidly throughout Europe and North America.

During the First and Second World Wars, schools in Canada and the U.S. joined the victory garden movement to grow vegetables for the home front. In what we would today call “reducing food miles,” victory gardens freed up rail cars and transport trucks by growing food close to home. In 1944, victory gardens produced 57,000 tons of vegetables to meet wartime shortages.

The arrival of frozen, fast, and convenience food after World War II led to a decline in school gardens. However, community interest revived in the 1990s over environmental and healthy food concerns.

The Farm to School Movement

In the early 2000s, a new farm to school movement began in Canada with three goals: expand and improve school nutrition programs, increase student food knowledge and gardening skills, and integrate local farmers into school food supply chains. Organized as Farm to Cafeteria Canada (F2CC), the organization currently has 1,082 participating schools, providing 598 school gardens. With over five million K–12 students in Canada, this is a mere fraction of what it could be.

Video: Farm to School Canada Digs In!
(by Farm to Cafeteria Canada)

A Curriculum for School Gardens

Garden educator and author, Kaci Rae Christopher, advises school administrators and teachers who want to start a garden program to start small and dream big. Her book, The School Garden Curriculum: An Integrated K-8 Guide for Discovering Science, Ecology, and Whole-Systems Thinking, offers a useful and comprehensive model of such a program.

The curriculum includes many topics that can help children learn skills to address climate change:

A young boy plants seeds in a school garden. School Gardens: Preparing Kids for Climate Change.• Fostering “life-rich soils”
• Composting
• Pollinators and cycles
• Native plants
• Supporting healthy habitats
• Gardening in every season
• Rain gardens
• Renewable resources
• Energy cycles and conservation
• Carbon sequestration (how carbon is captured and stored by plants)
• Supporting biodiversity
• Leadership and environmental stewardship

School Gardens Can Mitigate Climate Change

Today, 24% of greenhouse gases come from land use and agriculture. School gardens can teach students tangible ways to mitigate these climate risks.

• Meat and climate change – Livestock production is a major source of methane emissions and world deforestation. Growing food in school gardens increases children’s preferences for healthy fruits and vegetables, and introduces kids to a more plant-based diet.

• Food waste – Thirty percent of the world’s food is wasted. By growing food in school gardens, children learn how much care and time goes into producing fruits and vegetables.

• Pollution from overuse of fertilizers – School gardens teach students natural food-growing methods that do not require chemical fertilizer inputs. These include mulching, composting, soil cycles, plant diversity, and supporting beneficial insect habitat.

• Food miles – An average meal travels 1,200 kilometres before we eat it. When schools have vegetable gardens and source their cafeteria food from local farmers, they reduce food transportation emissions, and build community with local growers.

School Gardens: Preparing Kids for a Sustainable World

Over the last 150 years, school gardens served as an educational solution to social issues of the day. Depending on the times, they supplied fresh food, supported patriotism, increased student agricultural knowledge, advanced environmental literacy, and addressed health concerns. Now school gardens face their greatest challenge and opportunity: addressing sustainability and global climate change for a new generation.


More about sustainable gardening:

Grow a Climate Change Resilient GardenGrow a Climate Change Resilient Garden

10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens

Plants That Attract Beneficial Insects

Weeds That Indicate Soil ConditionsWeeds That Indicate Soil Conditions
3 Responses leave one →
  1. 2023 February 28
    Liana permalink

    thanks for info

  2. 2019 November 8
    Linda Bull permalink

    Love this positive action including children towards creating sustainability :)

  3. 2019 November 1
    Peter Kilvert permalink

    This is a great idea for schools and the future.

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