MPS School Garden Survey: Unearthing the Key to School Garden Success

May 23, 2016
Loring Community School garden
Loring Community School garden

Callie Recknagel was a member of the CHC VISTA cohort in 2014-15 and she served with Youth Farm and Minneapolis Public Schools Culinary and Nutrition Services (MPS). She was responsible for many projects during her VISTA term and one of these projects was the MPS School Garden Survey. The purpose of the survey was to determine the current state of school gardens in the Minneapolis Public School District, and from this information, assess how to best support the gardens and build stronger partnerships between MPS, the Youth Farm, and other non-profits doing food and gardening work.

The prep-work for the survey, which was largely spearheaded through Callie’s service, involved collaboration between Youth Farm and MPS, researching other similar surveys, developing a survey questionnaire, and contacting all of the MPS schools. All 60 MPS schools participated in the survey. Administrators, staff, teachers, parents, and staff from supporting organizations were among the survey respondents. Out of the 60 schools surveyed, 25 had school gardens and 17 of the 35 without school gardens were interested in building them in the future. So as these schools move forward in the planning process, what is the best way to ensure the garden has a lasting impact?

As Callie explained it, there are several important components to the success of a school garden. The continued involvement of garden “champions” is a key component to garden success. For true sustainability, all staff at the school, from administration to grounds keeping, should be invested in the garden’s success. Some school gardens have worked with outside organizational as partners. One such organization is a local non-profit called Spark-Y that helped Roosevelt High School build a greenhouse and garden beds. School gardens can also be successful if they are integrated into school curriculum. The surveyed schools say they use their gardens for subjects ranging from math and science to history and art. Additionally, it helps to connect the garden to the cafeteria. As part of her service, Callie developed a Garden-To-Cafeteria Pilot program during her service year which will launch in the fall. Four MPS schools will begin serving school garden produce in the cafeteria as part of school lunch. For success and sustainability, school gardens should be an integral part of the school where they grow, from classes to staff investment to the food served in the cafeteria.

A bountiful harvest at Nellie Stone Johnson Community School.
A bountiful harvest at Nellie Stone Johnson Community School.

Despite the challenges of school garden sustainability, the survey unearthed many positive aspects of the school garden movement in Minneapolis. Namely, 4-5 more school gardens were created in the time between the survey’s completion and the publication of the results. “We were was surprised at the number of school gardens that currently exist and especially how many schools don’t have one but are interested in starting one,” said Callie. “There is widespread interest, and having these numbers helps make the case that school gardens are important and need more resources.” There is hope of future district-level support for school gardens.

Interest in school gardens in Minneapolis is widespread and continues to grow, and the work and dedication from Callie during her service year has brought this information to light. As Callie says, “School gardens are a great way for youth to learn where their food comes from and start to build healthy food skills from a young age.” We couldn’t agree more.

Learn more and read the full MPS School Garden Summary Report at http://nutritionservices.mpls.k12.mn.us/school_gardens

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