Think spring! Plan now for a school garden project

Considerations in planning a school garden.

Think spring! Plan now for a school garden project

Now that we finally have snow on the ground, it is time to think spring and school gardens! Start by forming a team, gathering input, and developing a plan that works for how you intend to use your garden. There are many grants available to help start school garden projects but your garden plan should include strategies on how to maintain and fund the project beyond the start-up phase as this is where many projects struggle. This article includes some items for consideration as you plan your project. 

Start by forming a garden team to help with the planning process. Your team should include teachers and staff interested in using the garden or expected to help with maintenance. This would include school administration, teachers, food service staff and maintenance staff. You should also consider including parents and community volunteers that would have gardening experience or have an interest in supporting the project in other ways. Depending on the grade levels that will be involved this is also a great opportunity to engage youth in the planning process. 

Determine how you plan to use your garden. Is it intended to be an exploration activity for young kids, connected to science lessons where experiments might be included, or do you plan on using a majority of what is grown for taste testing or cafeteria use. This is important as it may affect the layout of your garden, the supplies you need and training for items such as food safety. School gardens can easily serve multiple grades and multiple uses if proper planning occurs in the design stage. 

Determine when you plan to use your garden. Will it be only during the school year? Do you have a summer program that could also utilize the garden? Is there a community group that could utilize the garden during the summer or volunteers (including Master Gardeners) that would help maintain it? There are ways to put a garden to bed properly during times it won’t be used (winter or summer) to minimize weed build up and make it easier to get the garden back into production when you are ready to use it. 

Understanding siting and construction considerations is critical in making the growing season as productive as possible. Items to consider include access to potable water, sun exposure, wind, and soil conditions. Raised beds and small hoop house structures are always an option as well. If looking at a hoop house structure you have the additional consideration of winter maintenance and snow removal.

Lastly, now that you have your plans in place for how you will use your garden, develop a budget for what is needed. In addition to any building materials you will want to include items such as seeds, harvesting tools, containers for plant starts. 

Future articles will provide more detail and guidance for each of the items discussed. Special thanks to Kathryn O’Donnell, FoodCorps Service member 2013-2015, for her role in developing the materials used in this article. For more information contact Michelle Walk, Michigan State University Extension Community Food Systems educator, at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or Jeannette Cushway, FoodCorps Service member, at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Both can be reached at 906-635-6368.

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