Research Articles Growing for the future: a new book on school gardens

75 contributors pooled their experiences for the book “Agrobiodiversity, school gardens and healthy diets”. Case studies from around the world illustrate how school gardens empower future generations to make food choices that nurture the environment and human health.

By: Danny Hunter, Eliot Gee, Nina Olsen Lauridsen

“With new worries about our health and that of the planet, school and home gardens provide us opportunities to rethink our future.” - Julian Gonsalves (Co-editor, IIRR: International Institute for Rural Reconstruction)

For the girls planting seedlings in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, or the Australian schoolchildren learning to cook their own vegetables, school gardens represent an exciting step forward towards healthier, more sustainable food systems.

While many children worldwide suffer from varied forms of malnutrition (with effects on their health, cognition, and educational achievement), schools are a source of hope, widely recognized as effective platforms for promoting lifelong healthy eating and improving long-term, sustainable nutrition security.

School gardens put these concepts into practice: in these engaging, hands-on spaces, schoolchildren are able to learn firsthand about nutritional, agricultural, and environmental issues, while developing life skills, knowledge, and habits that empower them to make healthy food choices.

“The way to change how kids feel about food is for them to have a hands-on experience and to learn about it, from the very beginning of popping a seed in the ground to coming into a kitchen, sitting around the table, and eating with their friends.” - Stephanie Alexander AO, Case Study Contributor

The latest addition to the Routledge Earthscan series Issues in Agricultural Biodiversity, the book Agrobiodiversity, school gardens and healthy diets” puts school gardens front and center. The book critically examines the role of agrobiodiversity in school gardens, along with its contribution to diversifying diets, promoting healthy eating habits and improving nutrition among schoolchildren and their families. Other benefits are explored that relate to climate change adaptation, eco-literacy and greening school spaces.

The book gathers case studies from a mosaic of places and backgrounds (developed and developing countries, rural and urban areas, indigenous communities and international organizations) that shed light on issues such as school feeding, community food production, food culture, and nutrition education, joined together to provide a comprehensive global assessment of school gardens’ benefits and potential. As the accompanying quotes suggest, there is strong enthusiasm for the strengthening and scaling up of these efforts.

With the growth of global nutrition movements, the current emphasis on nutrition-sensitive programming and the value of linking nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions, new spaces have opened up for school gardens to grow and educate students. However, despite this growing recognition, the reality is that the longevity of school gardens is a persistent challenge.

If governments or donors do not make significant and continuing financial commitments accompanied by supportive policies, school garden interventions will continue to face significant challenges. Proponents of school gardens must continue to be conscious of, and to plan for this accordingly.

“This book is very important for such times, when community and solidarity are ever so needed, to empower schoolchildren, their families and communities with the necessary skills and tools to be stewards of biodiversity for food and nutrition.” – Alessandra Grasso (Case Study Contributor, Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Kenya)

As the first comprehensive collection of experiences from the many individuals and organizations working on school gardens worldwide, often operating separately with shoestring budgets and limited time, this book aims to connect them in a stronger collective voice. The co-editors and contributors hope this sets the stage for the establishment of a more holistic and integrated global program that advocates for dedicated attention and support of school gardens.

Looking to the future, a new agenda for schools is likely to be geared towards multiple objectives including better nutrition, sustainable lifestyles and behavioural change while supporting conservation, regenerative agriculture and a food systems approach. The need for evidence to back up claims can be expected as more development partners become engaged, and financing mechanisms are put into place. However, there is little doubt that the best time for engagement in school gardening initiatives is still ahead of us.

This book will be essential reading for those interested in promoting diverse nutritious foods, sustainable nutrition and healthy eating habits in schools and public institutions more generally. It identifies recurring and emerging issues, establishes best practices, identifies key criteria for success and advises on strategies for scaling up and scaling out elements to improve the uptake of school gardens.

“This book clearly demonstrates the huge role that school gardens have to play in ending hunger, malnutrition and food security… showcasing other like-minded organisations and their successful approaches.” - Karalyn Hingston (Case Study Contributor, Food Plant Solutions)

The book Agrobiodiversity, school gardens and healthy diets was released in March 2020 in print and e-book formats, and is now freely accessible online. To read the book, click here.