Digging Into Learning Gardens

This spring, several of our school buildings applied for and received learning garden grants from Big Green, a non-profit organization focused on improving the health of students and families by providing garden-based learning environments that are easily accessible throughout the school day.

The garden grant provides our students opportunities to learn important principals of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), using the gardens as a venue for exploration and discovery. These outdoor classrooms provide students with an immediate opportunity to learn about science, growth cycles, nutrition, and healthy living. At Ferndale Upper Elementary (FUEL), this also means building upon our work as part of the Building Healthy Communities grant and our focus on healthy eating choices and infusing physical activity into daily life.

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The learning gardens, each costing $50,000, are not only dynamic outdoor classrooms but also productive edible gardens. Designed specifically for each school by Big Green landscape architects, they transform our suburban schoolyards into vibrant gathering places bursting with life. Each Learning Garden is paired with support from Big Green Garden Educators, whose job it is to help schools plant and harvest a thriving garden, and support teachers’ use of the Learning Garden as an instructional tool. Big Green is helping students dig into their education, thrive with nutritious foods and healthy habits, and become active participants in strengthening their communities.

Along with FUEL, grants were awarded to Ferndale Lower Elementary, Ferndale Middle School, & University High School. The four learning gardens were completed in the spring of 2018, with the help of excited students and leaders from around campus as well as Big Green volunteers. Students helped load the raised beds with healthy, organic soil and plant vegetable and fruit starts to be harvested throughout the growing season.

In our first ever harvest this past July, over 40 students and teachers came to our  gardens and learned about the different plants that they themselves had grown from seedlings (planted as a school in May) and studied the many edible parts of plants. Students tasted and harvested cilantro, dill, green beans, snap peas, and dragon beans. Volunteers were on hand to weigh each student’s individual harvest before they took home the fruit of their labors to share with their families. Corn and potatoes are still growing in the learning garden, awaiting a fall harvest. FUEL has been fortunate to
have a variety of vegetables in the gardens in the back of the school building, supported by the garden team of Ms. Hillebrand, Mr. Grzesik, and a team of dedicated parent volunteers, led by Christine Martin. Much of the harvest from these back gardens are used in the annual Fall Festival stew!

These outdoor learning spaces help us meet the needs of our many learners. Our goal this fall is to have each classroom enjoy at least one fall and one spring lesson planting and/or harvesting in the Big Green garden using their Garden Bites curriculum. These lessons are STEM-focused and allow students to explore the gardens while also engaging in inquiry-based learning activities. It is also our goal to connect our school’s quarterly healthy eating tastings to what we are growing in our learning gardens, thus bridging different school activities into one coherent experience for our learning community.