I’ve been writing this monthly column for Western Farm Press for more than eight years now and I’ve never once mentioned the valuable tip that there’s an excellent way to get teachers and students up close and personal with learning how plants grow and the role of plant nutrients in the health of plants - by growing their own vegetable gardens for free.
I am correcting this egregious oversight with this piece.
Through the generosity of the California Fertilizer Foundation (CFF) which operates under the auspices of the Western Plant Health Association, California school administrators and faculty members can apply for $1,200 school garden grants by simply visiting www.calfertilizer.org and filling out the quick and easy application forms.
In the nutshell, CFF’s Garden Grant Program is designed to provide resources to schools to teach students about plant nutrition and what plants need to grow from through an on-campus garden. It gives the students practical hands-on experience about how plants get nutrients for healthy growth.
Besides educating kids about the importance of plant nutrients, the CFF program also offers teachers a learning advantage by actually providing a solid physical teaching aid that focuses on the biological intricacies of plant growth and the gardening aspects of crop vegetables.
This process allows teachers to incorporate more science, math, and responsibility elements into their curriculum objectives in the classroom.
CFF first started handing out these garden grants in 1999, when it contributed $8,000 to predominately urban schools to be used as tools for educating students and teachers alike to the importance of agriculture, plant nutrients, and the food produced in the process.
24 grants annually
Over the past 16 years, CFF’s grants have climbed to 24 grants awarded annually at $1,200 each. To date, the Foundation has donated more than $330,000 to more than 275 California campuses.
Plus, at the end of each year, CFF invites those schools with garden awards to reapply for a ‘progress grant’ of $1,500, accompanied by a free agricultural field trip.
Plant's nutritional needs
To qualify for these grants, the schools can be public and private elementary, middle, and high schools, but pre-schools, colleges, and community gardens are ineligible.
Once again, the objective of CFF’s program is to increase California children’s understanding and awareness in meeting the plants’ nutritional needs through preparing the soil, planting vegetables, and monitoring and maintaining the growth – and reaping the rewards in eating delicious fresh and homegrown produce.
More important than the outcome of harvesting and eating the results of the gardens, teachers are able to utilize science experiments and math lessons in planning and establishing garden plots.
Gardens also provide after-school activities for students and parents who interact with school personnel in establishing and maintaining the gardens, and provide students with real-world lessons in responsibility and respect for others through the development of their gardens.
A number of garden-related projects exist in California, including the California School Garden Network, the Department of Education’s “Garden in Every School” program, the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, and various other agriculturally-related educational programs. Utilizing all these resources to meet the needs of individual schools is part of CFF’s program goals.
Plus, there’s an added bonus in being awarded a school garden grant. During the annual 24 check presentations at individual campuses that accompany each grant award, CFF notifies the political representatives of the school district, who typically present the school with their own state certificate recognizing the award and wishing them well in growing their gardens.
Local TV stations and print media are also alerted to the presentation ceremony, providing students and teachers with the enjoyment of seeing pictures and their school mentioned in local media outlets afterward.
This school garden program is really valuable in enlightening new generations of students with a real-life model concerning the importance of proper plant nutritional inputs, and how these healthy crops then get from field to fork.
School garden testimonials
You don’t have to take it from me. Below are some quotes from several teachers and a student praising the program’s many benefits.
“Gardening not only connects us to the soil – and the food we eat – but with humanity. The simple act of planting a seed links human experience across generations and borders and experiences, expressing the fundamental thing we all hold in common; that soil, cultivated, nourishes our bodies and also feeds our souls.” - Rose Hayden-Smith, acting county director, UC Extension, Ventura
“I never knew how great a salad could be. I loved the peas and beets we grew. I even liked the turnip. I have never tried one before even when my mom said it was good for me. Carrots are still my favorite though.” - Fifth-grader John C., Fremont Elementary School, Glendale
“Our fourth-grade students were afforded the opportunity to witness the pollination of our basil plant by bees. They were able to see why this is so and discuss the importance of reproduction in plants. In addition, students were able to learn about the value of good soil by testing it and providing nutrients that were missing.” - Teacher Jeanie Greeran, La Fetra Elementary School, Glendora
These are valuable testimonials from participants who learned firsthand about the benefits and importance of CFF’s school garden grant project.
Future farmers, consumers
If you are a teacher, school administrator, or school employee, or perhaps you know people in the field, please pass along the word that there’s free money available for possibly educating the next generation of farmers, or at least enlightening the next generation of food consumers, about the history and enjoyment of learning how and where their food comes from.
To complete an application for your $1,200 school garden grant, please visit www.calfertilizer.org.