Guest/5 Ways Edible Gardens Make Kids Smarter and Healthier

| February 17, 2011

Welcome our newest guest contributor, Alice Bumgarner, who is the coordinator and founder of the George Watts Montessori edible garden. George Watts is a elementary Montessori school near downtown Durham. Mom of two, Alice also develops the accompanying curriculum for this garden, which is actually three – a fruit garden and arbor, a courtyard full of perennials and annuals, and a series of raised beds in the playground. Every classroom participates in caring for it and the school nutritionist helps with the garden cooking and tasting events.

Alice writes about the garden on Growing Gardeners, and his is her newest update. Thanks, Alice, for all that you do!

I just created a presentation about the evolution of our school garden at George Watts Montessori. (I can’t wait to tell you why I was doing that, but that will have to wait for another post.)

To show what we’ve accomplished, I delved into the 5 biggest ways the garden has contributed to the students’ health and academics:

A proud grower of carrots

1. Kids are tasting more vegetables and fruits — and learning how to cook them. Tasting what’s growing in the garden is so essential, but it’s also a challenge to incorporate into the school day.

At schools like Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, Calif., they have kitchen and garden staff who work together in figuring out what’s ready to harvest and cook with children — and then do it during set-aside blocks of time. If you’re not lucky enough to have that arrangement, you have to fit in tastings somehow.

At our school, the tastings have happened as a school-wide “celebration” — like Harvest Feast or Green Smoothie Day — and also as an individual classroom activity. This year, for example, classrooms gathered lettuce to make salads for a mid-afternoon snack and harvested broccoli for a recipe a teacher brought in. Other classrooms nibble from the plants as they pass through the garden on their way to recess.

What can you make with spinach and strawberries (both grown in our garden)? Green smoothies!

This spring, we’ll be trying something new. More about that in a future post…

2. Kids move more. Outside in the garden, kids can stretch, soak up some sunshine vitamins, and have a sensorial experience, thanks to all the smells and textures in the garden.

But the biggest boon to students’ health? The .25-mile walking path that we installed as part of the garden expansion.

Many classes run the track before starting recess. It’s one way for teachers — and not just the P.E. coach — to help kids reach the daily recommended levels of physical activity, 60 minutes. A growing body of research shows the connection between physical activity and academic performance (not to mention the health benefits of exercise).

So anytime a teacher encourages a run around the track, she’s helping kids get smarter.

A class does a lap before recess begins.

3. It’s a learning lab. I’ve told you before about the garden-based curriculum we’re using at George Watts Montessori. But teachers don’t always need customized lessons to encourage learning outside. Journaling, measuring, making real-world observations, conducting experiments, gathering specimens — it’s all possible in a garden.

Students can witness what happens when they don’t water young seeds enough, or how slowly their compost heap decomposes. It’s like this Chinese proverb puts it: “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.”

4. It brings food equity to our community. We have enough space in our garden now that we produce more than students can taste during the school day. So we’ve been able to think about how to share food.

Some weeks (with the help of the school’s counselor) we send home fresh vegetables to school families in need. Over the summer, everything we harvested was given away to families at a weekly Garden Giveaway Day at the school. At last spring’s Great Tomato Giveaway, every family who wanted one got a free potted tomato plant, along with a list of ways to cook and eat a tomato.

And recently, over winter break, 20 or so students and their families came to the garden to harvest spinach and carrots. We took loads of it to our downtown soup kitchen, Urban Ministries, so the chef could turn it into a meal.

5. It builds community. This means a lot of different things to me. It can mean a small group of parents coming together to work on the garden beds, or the entire school community coming together to celebrate Rootfest. Or it can point to the many connections our school has made via the garden.

So far, we’ve forged partnerships with urban gardening groups like Bountiful Backyards and SEEDS. We’ve worked closely with the nutritionists from DINE for LIFE who serve public schools. We’ve helped and been helped by Duke students who want to make a difference in Durham. We’ve collaborated with other teachers and parents throughout the public school system. We’ve received grants and in-kind donations from organizations like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, NC Beautiful, Whole Foods, Burt’s Bees, Cabot Farms and our own school alumni group Friends of Watts. (And our PTA continues to provide the critical financial and volunteer support that sustains this program.)

With all those people and organizations helping to lift up our students and lift up our school, we’ve accomplished a bazillion times more than we would have alone.


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Category: Communities, Featured Articles: Health & Nutrition, Health & Nutrition, Kids & Food, Piedmont NC

About the Author (Author Profile)

With a flair for spontaneity, pizzazz, creative excellence and her own unique sense of aesthetic grace and perspective, we have our very dear friend, Belinda (or B, to some of us). Although an incredibly accomplished professional and career woman, B’s down-to-earth approach and demeanor transcends all scenarios, communities and people. She manifests, in her day-to-day, the essence of the word “Zomppa” as demonstrated by her extraordinary commitment to creating sustainable and positive change for us and future generations to come. She’s asked for a dog every year since she was five. Check out Belinda’s work on global education research and coaching: or more about her portfolio

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Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Guest/5 Ways Edible Gardens Make Kids Smarter and Healthier | CookingPlanet | February 16, 2011
  2. Tweets that mention Guest/5 Ways Edible Gardens Make Kids Smarter and Healthier | Zomppa - International Food Magazine -- | February 16, 2011
  3. | February 17, 2011
  1. Kids learn gardening in the schools…cool! The green smoothie sounds very healthy and delicious too.

  2. a Nordn'Ireland dad says:

    I am just blown away by this fantastic initiative. It just is such a wonderful example of building capacity for community life starting, as it rightly should, with the education of our precious children and gradually moving up to include all the family and further afield into the community. And it all starts with our basis physical need – healthy eating and a natural environment! So, so many thanks to Zomppa for sharing this!

  3. Sommer says:

    What a cool concept! We were involved in a multi-family garden project last year and it was such a wonderful experience for out kids. They not only gained a stronger work ethic, but an deeper understanding of where their food comes from and the importance of growing it locally. Will do again!

  4. Beth says:

    Welcome to Alice! I loved reading about this program. It’s the kind of initiative that can really make a difference!

  5. alex says:

    Miss Billie and miss alice! I loved this article! I so agree with all the points you make, plus getting them out into the fresh air and sunshine and feeling the dirt in their hands brings such connection to nature and the earth! I will be sharing this article on my thoughts on friday link love so more folks can see how wonderful a school garden can be! All the best! Alex

  6. Monet says:

    Such a great post! My husband works with Big Brothers Big Sisters and he’s trying to implement more gardening programs…kids love to get out and help things grow! Thank you for sharing with me tonight. I hope you have a great Friday. I’m so ready for the weekend!

  7. I used to be a primary school teacher in the UK and we were always trying to get things like this off the ground. Great to see it in practice. Kids really benefit from stuff like this – not just nutritionally.

  8. Great post belinda. I wish my school had veggies garden when I was young. Green smoothies sound great!

  9. Lena says:

    This is great. I lived in Berkeley and helped with a school yard edible garden- I def saw a difference in those kids’ routines.

  10. Wow! This is a great help for children’s. They would learned many educational things. And it could also help them gain knowledge about environments.