NOTE: This post was written by Chelsey Simpson, who is the membership and communications associate for the National Farm to School Network and an advocate for local food systems and community gardening.
Do you remember when you first discovered the magic of seeds–endosperms and embryos, a tiny beansprout uncurling on your classroom’s windowsill? You can share that magic by volunteering for a school garden, even if that means starting one from scratch. School gardens bring science to life every day, feeding kids’ natural curiosityand connecting them to their food in a deeper, more meaningful way. Studies show that students who are exposed to gardens and other Farm to School activities are more likely to make healthy food choices and try new foods.
Schools present special challenges for new and experienced gardeners alike. Working around summer vacation, creating relevant teaching opportunities and selecting low-maintenance plants are all important considerations in school garden projects. There are no wrong answers–and a lot depends on your climate and soil conditions–but some plants fit the needs of school gardens better than others. Here are five of our favorites.
Radishes are fast. Some varieties are ready to eat just three weeks after the seeds are sown, making them a satisfying first plant for beginners. Radishes are also easy to harvest, and kids will have fun pulling the whole plant out of the ground while learning about root systems. Like all of the plants on this list, they are easy to eat raw. Their sharp flavor can be toned down by grating them into a slaw or pairing them with a dipping sauce.
Many greens and lettuce varieties work well in school gardens because they are less frost-sensitive and can be planted in the spring and fall. Rainbow chard is an especially nice choice because a single seed pack will yield a neon display in shades of yellow, pink, green and orange. It is also very hearty and will continue to produce through the summer and fall if it is harvested regularly. The seeds are relatively large, making them easy for small fingers to handle. Mature leaves usually taste best sautéed, but small, young leaves are good in a salad.
All photos courtesy of Stock.XCHNG.
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