The questions and resources below are meant to help you explore the myriad considerations that arise when planning a school garden program. As you work through the prompts, you will be encouraged to think about how you want the gardens to be used; what types and how much food you hope to produce; where to locate the gardens; how to design the gardens; what tools and materials you'll need; how much funding and staff support the garden program will require; and what you'll do with the harvest.
Note: These questions and resources focus on the logistics of establishing and maintaining a gardening program. See the education and curriculum topic for more on how to fully integrate gardens into academic programs. See the food safety topic for more on how to keep your garden environment, and harvest, safe.
What steps have already been taken to plan, create, or expand a garden program at your school or in your district? How many of your district's schools currently have gardens, and how many would like to have a garden?
Are administrators, parents, food service and maintenance staff, teachers, and students invested in the idea of a new or expanded school gardening program? If not, how will you get their buy-in and the practical support you need from them?
How many gardens would your program ideally support, and how large would they be? What is your timeline for installing these gardens?
What are your goals for your school gardening program? How will the gardens be used and by whom? How many students will learn or work in the gardens, and what are their grade levels? What topics do you want to teach in the garden, and what experiences do you want students to have? How much food are you hoping your gardens will produce?
Where will you situate any new gardens to ensure that they get adequate light and are close to water sources? Do the soil qualities differ across the school campuses? What other considerations will you take into account when choosing where to plant gardens?
What will your gardens look like? Will different gardens or different parts of one garden cater to different age groups or purposes?
Will you plant seeds or starts directly in the ground, use raised beds, or do some combination of both?
Will you use existing soil or bring soil in from elsewhere? How will you enrich your soil and keep it healthy? Do you plan to use compost, plant cover crops, add fertilizers?
How long is the growing season in your area, and what crops grow well in your soils and climate? Will you involve students in your decision about what crops to plant? Are there any special cultural foods or food traditions that you want to represent in your gardens? Do you plan to plant any fruit-bearing trees?
Which non-food crops will you raise?
Will you raise any bees or animals as part of your gardening program?
Do you plan to incorporate greenhouses, hoop houses, or any other types of structures into your school gardens? If so, for what purpose?
What other considerations are important in the design of your garden? Will you have a special area for compost? How about a shady area for students to sit while they are participating in lessons or receiving garden training?
What supplies will you need for seeding, planting, harvesting, and teaching in the gardens? Where will you store these items once you've obtained them?
How much will it cost to maintain your school gardening program throughout the year (including staff time, tools, water, compost, etc.)? Where will this money or in-kind support come from?
What sort of ongoing maintenance (such as weeding, watering, fertilizing, etc.) will the garden require, both during the school year and the summer? Who will be responsible for these duties? Will you organize regular garden workdays? Solicit the help of volunteers and parents?
What training will teachers, volunteers, students, maintenance stuff, and others need to keep the garden healthy, avoid injury, and ensure that the foods it produces are safe?
How much produce do you anticipate harvesting each season, and what do you intend to do with the harvest? Will you serve some of the garden produce through school cafeterias? Will you offer foods for students to sample right there in the garden or back at the classroom? Do you intend to sell any garden produce through, say, a farmers' market or a community supported agriculture program?
A checklist for building community support, creating a shared vision, planning and designing the garden, securing materials and supplies, and keeping the garden growing.
Center for Ecoliteracy
A comprehensive, step-by-step guide to starting a school garden, from selecting and preparing a site, to raising funds, to involving a diverse set of stakeholders.
A list of important considerations for starting a garden including site and plant selection, soil health, and design.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service
This memo clarifies, among other things, that funds from the nonprofit school food service account can be used to purchase seeds and other supplies for starting and maintaining school gardens.
LifeLab and the National Farm to School Network
LifeLab Director John Fisher discusses the importance of good garden design and demonstrates many garden design concepts with more than 100 photographs.
An inspiring video documenting one of Minnesota’s largest school garden projects, which spans 3.5 acres. About 300 high school students tend a garden that provides fresh food to the school cafeteria, grow food for and operate a community supported agriculture program, and learn valuable lessons.
California School Garden Network
Free handouts, videos, and other resources, including great information on planning, designing, prepping, seeding, and maintaining a garden.
A project of the National Gardening Association
Articles, lesson and activity ideas, classroom projects, and how-to-guides.
An organization dedicated to building and sharing edible education curricula supporting an online network and resource center, and offering professional development opportunities.
A collaborative effort of more than 700 local and national organizations all working together to establish community and school gardens across the country.