I have been emailing with Lauren Howe from the Slow Food USA School Garden Program and asked her what her thoughts were on why School Gardens are so central to good, clean and fair food for all. Her response was:
“My feeling about school gardens being central to good, clean and fair food for all is related to the idea that I believe school gardens are a vehicle for social change. They are equalizers that do not discriminate, that is, school gardens can be found in rural, urban and suburban schools; public, private, charter, Montessori, parochial schools. Regardless of race, class or gender, all students have the potential to benefit from school gardens. School gardens also reconnect students with their food, teaching them where food comes from (out of the ground, not the super market shelf) and teaches about organic gardening practices and environmental sustainability.”
She also recommended that I check out this page on their website that lists current academic research, based on her assumption that my study will require some legitimate peer reviewed literature.
The page states:
‘There have been a handful of studies conducted looking at the impact of school gardens and cooking classes on outcomes such as: 1) academic success; 2) choices of and consumption of fruits and vegetables; 3) social and emotional behavior; 4) food justice; 5) best practices in school gardens; and 6) obesity.
Slow Food USA has completed a literature review of the current research findings, and we have prepared summaries for parents, teachers, garden leaders, and school administrators. Below, each category includes a document that summarizes several peer-reviewed papers and a companion PowerPoint that presents this information in graphic form. Please feel free to download, adapt, and utilize these PowerPoint slides, as it is our hope that you can use this information when preparing for a presentation to convince others “Why School Gardens?”.’
Of the six study categories, I was most interested in the impact of school gardens on Food justice, Access, and Knowledge.
Here is a summary of some of the research that was collected:
— In a study from 2013 based on School Garden Access and Socioeconomic Status, the authors’ main findings were that “elementary school gardens are more prevalent in the wealthier and ethnically less diverse communities.” Common characteristics of wealthier communities with school gardens were: school, community and family support, garden expertise, large outdoor space availability, and increased funding. Data from this study found that schools were 4 times more likely to have gardens if a lower than average % of students received Free/Reduced Price Meals Plan, there was no presence of school gardens in neighborhoods where >15% of households were classified as “low income”, and most schools without gardens were located in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods with a high percentage of non-white residents. Post-study recommendations were made by the authors which included: 1) Government agencies should create policies and practices to recognize school garden benefits, 2) Educational garden tools should be made accessible to students, teachers and parents, and 3) Grants should be distributed to low-access neighborhoods to support and fund school gardens.
— In a study from 2012 based on School Garden Programs in low-income, low-access neighborhoods, interns were involved in a low-income, mixed-race neighborhood elementary school where 93% of students qualified for free/reduced lunch. The aim of the program was to develop gardens in schools with limited access to funding, garden educators and time, and where food insecurity and access was prevalent. The studies major findings were that these programs initiate healthier food choices and make fresh food available to communities in food deserts, the elementary school strengthened their education through the use of the garden, and lastly, the formation of garden committees was helpful in gathering the support needed to maintain the program and inspire the community. Some general challenges of school garden programs include: inconsistent or lack of staff/leaders, integrating the garden into school curriculum, and maintaining the garden over time. The school’s solution to these challenges were to create a garden committee in charge of gathering volunteers to sustain the program, utilizing the garden to reinforce classroom learning, integrating it into the school’s mission, and involving the community in garden maintenance participation.
— The third study (2007) was based on Shaping Food Environments through Garden and School-Based Programs. Its focus was on the settings that shape eating behaviors, especially low-income individuals with lack of food access. The environments that they found to be most significant in shaping food behaviors were: 1) individual (biological and demographic characteristics), 2) Social (family, friends, peers, community members), 3) Physical (home, work, school), and 4) Macro (food distribution and marketing). They identified the “physical” school setting as most impactful and states that programs should therefore ‘”link local famers…to school food service cafeterias and school gardening programs” and there’s a need for “classroom nutrition education…to increase student’s skills for adopting healthy lifestyles.”‘ Ways of improving the school food setting were farm-to-school gardening programs, vegetable pilot programs, and nutrition curriculum. The authors concluded the increasing need for federal child nutrition programs for children in low-income families, and that community food access issues can be addressed through the development of community gardens, supporting local farmers by buying their produce, and supporting farmers’ markets in these neighborhoods.
Here is a diagram that summarizes the impacts that were found in each study.