By Nicole Zimmerman, School Garden Network; edited by livinggreen.

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La Tercera Elementary students sow seeds for their garden and plant sales.

The School Garden Network (SGN) is a non-profit organization of garden program coordinators, teachers, parent volunteers and community partners. SGN supports and promotes sustainable garden- and nutrition-based learning programs in Sonoma County schools, connects school communities with fresh, locally grown foods, and provides a forum for exchanging information and resources. We empower youth to embrace healthy eating habits and to develop respect for and stewardship of all living things. A chapter of the California School Garden Network, SGN has steadily grown its membership base since 2003. 

SGN promotes collaboration between educational, health, agricultural and business sectors of the community, and appreciates the support of the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, Community Foundation of Sonoma County, Medlock Ames, Exchange Bank, Whole Foods, Sonoma Jail Industries Nursery, Sweetwater Nursery and more!

Why Is School Garden Education Important?

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Children's watering cans at Harmony Elementary School in Occidental.

School gardens address national concerns about food security, resource consumption, environmental degradation and health epidemics like childhood obesity and Type II Diabetes. Cooking from the garden encourages healthier eating, as kids are more willing to taste and eat foods they’ve planted, harvested and prepared. Farm to school connections support local farmers, sustain healthy food systems and increase biodiversity while exposing kids to food that is nutritious, fresh, seasonal and local. Children learn important life skills and social values by connecting to the natural world through environmental stewardship.

Garden education also promotes academic achievement by incorporating state standards through experiential and place-based learning. Recognizing these beneficial outcomes, the State of California Department of Education mandated the creation of a garden on every elementary school campus. Unfortunately, the “Garden in Every School” initiative has largely been unfunded, leaving most schools struggling to make it a reality.

 

What Does SGN Do?

The School Garden Network raises community awareness of the need for, and success of, school garden programs, and seeks continued funding for these programs. We offer workshops, distribute free seeds and plants donated by nurseries, and coordinate fundraising plant sales. Communicating through the website and listserv of SGN, members share best practices, resources, grant information and curricular ideas like the garden “theme boxes” donated to the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE). Immediate goals of SGN are to continue to help fund and mentor more garden projects through the following grants.

 

Grants

SGN believes the best way to ensure the long-term viability of school gardens is to provide financial support for the education coordinators who maintain gardens, develop and teach curriculum, organize parent volunteers and liaise with school staff.

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Harmony School students work together on a grey-water pond.

The Garden Based Education Grant offers partial funding for salaries, and includes tuition for the teacher training at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. An SGN mentor is assigned to each grantee for additional guidance and support. Recipients include: McNear Elementary, La Tercera Elementary, Dunbar Elementary, Cloverdale High School, Geyserville Elementary, Apple Blossom School and McKinley Elementary.

The Salad Bar Grant offers funding and mentoring to increase access to healthy and fresh produce through school cafeteria salad bars, supported by contributions from the school’s garden and a local farm-to-school connection. Recipients: Oak Grove Elementary and Salmon Creek School.

The Cooking From The Garden Grant supports nutrition education by funding cooking equipment, supplies and educational materials. Recipients: Northwest Prep at Piner Olivet High School, Valley of the Moon Children’s Community School and Healdsburg Elementary School.

 

How To Get Involved:

  • Become a member; share information & resources on the Yahoo group listserv.
  • Join a committee: support is needed for educational resources, fund raising, community outreach, marketing, grant management and more!
  • Volunteer at your local school garden.
  • Table at events or farmers markets to inform the community.
  • Donate garden materials, time or funds to support our grants and other projects.

 For More Information:

www.schoolgardens.org , info@schoolgardens.org, 707-874-1557 x223

Nicole Zimmerman served on the Board of Directors of the School Garden Network for one year. She was the interim chair of the Outreach/Marketing committee for the second half of her term.