Regional Gathering on School Gardens: Key Findings

November 19, 2014   Tags:

Note: This article was originally published June 13, 2012.

On May 21, 2012 a group of 29 individuals working on school gardens in West Virginia gathered in Charleston, WV at the Kanawha County Extension Office including Board of Education staff, extension agents, legislative staff, AmeriCorps volunteers, master gardeners, nutrition instructors, food service directors, Montessori school students, and others working in the community.

The West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition (an initiative of the West Virginia Community Development Hub) and WVU Extension Service partnered to create this event. The following is a report of findings from the gathering, based on notes assembled by Leah Smith of the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition.

Find a PDF version of this report with a summary of resources, curricula, and next steps here.

Presenters and Presentation Topics

What’s Working & Who Can Help

AmeriCorps Members Building School Gardens
Adrienne Cedarleaf, AmeriCorps Member with High Rocks Educational Corp. in Pocahontas County

As an AmeriCorps member working with the Pocahontas County Schools, Adrienne takes elementary schoolers into a demonstration garden to learn about growing food, and teaches them about health and nutrition in the
winter. She also leads a middle school afterschool program around gardening.

Andy Pense, AmeriCorps Member with Fayette County Schools,
Working under the supervision of Fayette County’s school food service director, Andy connects elementary school children to the growing process by engaging them in hands on learning activities, such as planting berry bushes and potatoes, building and using compost bins, and taking them on field trips to farms.

WVU Extension Service: Nutrition Outreach Instructors
Presenter: Amy Gannon, WVU Extension Service – Family Nutrition Program
Under the umbrella of the WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Program, Nutrition Outreach Instructors across the state are teaching children in schools about dietary guidelines and physical activity, currently working with grades 3-5 but looking to expand. Instructors focus on fruits and vegetables and could provide special events and lessons relevant to school gardens, such as making smoothies with berries grown at the school garden.

Perspectives on 4H
Presenter: Rodney Wallbrown, WVU Extension Service – Mason County,
Rodney, passionate about teaching teachers the importance of school gardens, wants to see more production-oriented entrepreneurship projects in FFA and 4-H, with a focus on agribusiness skills like record keeping. He also would like to connect students with older farmers that have land. He suggests that more outreach is needed in order to demonstrate the educational value and importance of garden-based activities, including how they can teach core subjects and meet Content Standards and Objectives (CSO’s).

Kanawha Community Garden Association: Seed to Market Challenge
Presenter: Jessica Pollitt, AmeriCorps*VISTA with WVU Extension Service in Kanawha County
Through this summer program, youth-focused gardening clubs will challenge youth to attend weekly garden club meetings, collect garden data, complete enrichment activities, sell products at market, and collect bookkeeping data.

WV Farm to School Successes
David Seay, Food Service Director, Fayette County Schools,

David is currently buying food for the Fayette County Schools from three local farmers, but wants to work with more. He says that Fayette County Schools would always give preference to local food products if enough farmers were willing to sell to the school system. He recently put out a call asking West Virginia farmers to bid on a contract to produce 100,000 pounds of beef. He has not had many responses, but the request for bids is still open.

Rhonda McCoy, Food Service Director, Cabell County Schools,
Purchasing takes place at the county level, and if a county wants to buy local, it can buy local. As an example, Rhonda has made plans to buy as many eggs as possible from one of her county’s FFA students. Like several other county food service directors interested in farm to school, she is looking for more local farmers that she can buy from. Additionally, Cabell County recently planted over 900 pounds of sweet potatoes to produce for the school system.

Bekki Leigh, Office of Child Nutrition,
The Office of Child Nutrition at the West Virginia Department of Education is actively promoting farm to school. In addition to administering the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable snack program, which has enabled some schools to purchase local food for snacks, the OCN has 3 Regional Gathering on School Gardens: Key Findings – May 2012
earmarked $250,000 of their budget to help county school systems make farm to school purchases, as an incentive for counties to start new farm to school programs. Counties will be completely reimbursed for these local puchases. The Office of Child Nutrition is also part of a multi-agency working group that is linking farm to school programs with high school agriculture education programs in six counties, so that farm to school can double as a educational opportunity to teach youth entrepreneurship in farming.

Kanawha County Special Education Career Explorations
Presenter: Jeff McCroskey, Kanawha County Schools,
Jeff works with 140 students in 4 schools in Kanawha County in the Career Explorations program, which engages special education students with practical work experience. Students are working in school gardens with Master Gardeners to learn a potential trade: to grow food.

Huntington Community Gardens and Barnett Center
Presenters: Rich Sherman, WVU Extension Service – Cabell County,, and Melissa Stewart, West Virginia State University Extension Service,
Huntington Community Gardens has a teaching garden at the Barnett Center, to try to increase community health and decrease crime. The new “SCRATCH Project,” launched with USDA Children, Youth & Families At Risk appropriation funds, engages kids with growing, and follows them through high school, giving them opportunities to start their own businesses under the “Made From Scratch” label. 

Curricular Resources & Activity Ideas

Curricula from Other States
Presenter: Mary Beth Bennett, WVU Extension Service – Berkeley County,
Mary Beth developed the Agriculture in the Classroom program in WV and has been involved in national conversations about youth gardening education for several years. Mary Beth introduced a wide array of gardenthemed curricular resources from across the country and provided a detailed bibliography of curricula in a handout (attached).

Junior Master Gardener Program
Presenter: Melissa Stewart, West Virginia State University Extension Service,
Managed out of Texas A&M University, the Junior Master Gardener program offers curricula for a wide range of gardening-themed activities for youth of all ages. Through WV State University Extension Service, Melissa offers assistance to WV schools, camps and after-school programs in utilizing the JMG resources.

Square Yard in the School Yard
Presenter: Chuck Talbott, WVU Extension Service – Putnam County,
Created by the author of “the Square Foot Gardener,” the “Square Yard in the School Yard” program offers resources that make it easy to incorporate math lessons and problem-solving into raised bed gardening activities for youth.

Garden Mosaics
Presenter: John Porter, WVU Extension Service – Kanawha County,
Garden Mosaics is the “official” curriculum of the American Community Gardening Association. These curricula and the accompanying handouts have been a valuable resource to John’s educational programs for youth in Kanawha County, linking gardening to science concepts as well as lessons on history and culture.

Collaborations with High School Agriculture Education
Presenters: Nicole Shipman, Agriculture Education Teacher, John Marshall High School,; Jason Hughes, Office of Career and Technical Instruction at West Virginia Dept. of Education,
Nicole’s high school Agriculture Education Class began exploring horticulture by converting a portion of their high school property into raised beds, and grew from there. Now her students also assist in teaching younger students at nearby elementary schools. Nicole and Jason pointed out how high school agriculture education programs can be an asset for school garden programs involving younger children.

Content Standard Objectives and Junior Master Gardeners
Presenter: Cindy Martel,
Cindy is working on a project to match Junior Master Gardener lessons with West Virginia Content Standard Objectives and has developed a database to organize this information, drawing on examples from other states. She presented the new database format and explained how it can be used by teachers to identify school garden activities that meet curricular requirements. A team from the Regional Gathering on School Gardens is going to expand this database to also include other school garden curricula