Kids Growing Food: school food gardens as tools for learning CALS Impact Statement uri icon


  • Abstract

    Kids Growing Food school food gardens have impacted over 50,000 New York students in rural, urban, and suburban communities as learning laboratories used by teachers to integrate agricultural literacy across the curriculum and meet New York State learning standards.


    Although a National Research Council report (Understanding Agriculture, 1988) called for systematic instruction about agriculture for all K-12 students, few systematic efforts are made to teach or develop agricultural literacy in schools. Agricultural (or food and fiber systems) literacy is essential for a citizenry prepared to engage in policy making, as well as make informed decisions regarding personal health and career choices. Growing food in school is one way that students can learn agricultural concepts in a relevant context and be involved in a food system on a small scale. Research indicates that garden-based learning improves student motivation, provides health benefits by increasing consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, improves understanding of science concepts and inquiry skills, and contributes to learning vocational and life skills. Because 20 percent of our workforce works with some aspect of the food and fiber system, current students need opportunities to be exposed to, and motivated to consider, the wide variety of food system careers available. Innovative strategies that utilize food and fiber systems as a conceptual anchor for addressing learning standards across the curriculum can help teachers engage students in meaningful hands-on learning that results in increased agricultural literacy and achievement gains.


    The mission of the New York Agriculture in the Classroom (NYAITC) program is to foster food and fiber systems literacy. To further that goal, the NYAITC Kids Growing Food (KGF) school food gardening program has initiated 260 gardens in New York schools (including New York City) since its inception in 1998, including 40 new gardens in 2004. Thirty KGF school gardens sponsored by the Ag Tech Prep program involve partnerships between high school agriculture students and younger students. The program has also expanded to other mid-Atlantic states. Teachers who receive Kids Growing Food mini-grants agree to use the school garden to make links to agriculture, food systems, and develop good nutritional habits in the students, to integrate the garden into the core curriculum, and involve the whole school and entire community. NYAITC provides workshops and support for the garden network. Teachers submit grant proposals that includes a comprehensive plan for the garden and curriculum integration. Teachers who are selected to participate in the program receive a one-time $500 mini-grant and are required to participate in an orientation workshop and the KGF list serve, file a final report, plan for summer maintenance, publicize the garden as a KGF garden, and share experiences with other educators. The Kids Growing Food program carries on the legacy and vision of Liberty Hyde Bailey, who advanced the notion that a garden was an essential laboratory for every school in which to integrate learning in all subjects.


    According to a critical analysis of the Kids Growing Food final reports, the program is impacting student learning and motivation in a variety of ways. The gardens are being utilized as tools for integrating food and fiber concepts into the curriculum across all subjects in virtually every school and across multiple grade levels in most schools. One teacher described the biggest success as the "enlightenment on the part of the students as they became more aware of the role of agriculture in our everyday lives." Teachers report that the gardens are ideal contexts and " a wonderful teaching tool," in which to address New York State learning standards. Many life skills are learned, such as research and the scientific method, problem solving, team building, cooperation, nutrition, gardening, and critical thinking. Teachers report positive changes that extended to other classroom activities, including student motivation, confidence, self-esteem, and attitudes and enthusiasm toward learning. Garden-based learning was also reported as providing a unique learning environment for students with disabilities and disadvantaged students. Teachers also report the garden as a tool for learning environmental concepts. Many of the gardens are used successfully for peer teaching relationships, impacting students as both teachers and learners in positive ways. The gardens also serve as contexts for community involvement in a variety of ways.

    Funding Sources

    • Other Federal non-USDA (e.g., NSF, NIH, DOA, DOD)
    • Private (e.g., commodity groups, foundations, companies)
    • State or Municipal (e.g., NYSDAM)


    • American Farm Bureau
    • American Horticultural Society
    • Scholastic Press, Inc.
    • American Institute of Wine and Food
    • Cornell Cooperative Extension
    • Cornell University: Department of Horticulture
    • Cornell University: Department of Horticultural Science
    • Cornell University: Department of Nutritional Sciences
    • EarthBoxes, Inc.
    • Harris Seeds
    • Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation
    • National Gardening Association
    • New York Agriculture and Markets
    • New York Ag Tech Prep
    • New York Farm Bureau
    • New York Farm-to-School Program
    • Plant-a-Row for the Hungry: Garden Writers of America
    • Rutgers University: Cooperative Research and Extension
    • Seeds of Change
    • Seedway Seeds
    • SUNY Cobleskill
    • United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
    • U.S. National Arboretum
    • University of the District of Columbia Cooperative Extension Services

    Key Personnel

    • Nancy Schaff, Coordinator of New York Agriculture in the Classroom (1/04-11/04) and Director of New York AITC (12/04-present)
    • Janet Hawkes, Director of New York Agriculture in the Classroom
    • Margaret Barker, Coordinator of Kids Growing Food Program