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Best Management Company Concept: Playbook helps any district start a school garden

Best Management Company Concept: Playbook helps any district start a school garden

Each year Food Management honors operations for excellence and innovation in our Best Concepts awards program. Read more on this year’s winners. 

In 2015, Chartwells and partnered on a pilot program to put together a comprehensive guide to help schools across the country develop, create, maintain and serve the harvest from a school garden. Leveraging the culinary and nutrition expertise of Chartwells and the gardening know-how of, they explored school garden development and support at all stages, geographies and resource needs. 

The result was the eat. learn. live. School Garden Guide, a comprehensive toolkit that helps guide educators to develop, grow and sustain school gardens in their districts despite space, climate and resource limitations. It includes a detailed garden playbook filled with gardening tips, nutrition education materials and guidance for building community garden support through any stage of a garden program development, from simply having a community garden or student learning laboratory serving harvest in the school café to supporting nutrition education and understanding garden management during the summer months.

“Chartwells K12 believes it is our responsibility to teach students lifelong healthy habits beyond the plate, and school gardens allow us to extend food education beyond the kitchen,” explains Margie Saidel, MPH R.D., vice president of nutrition  and sustainability for Chartwells K12. “Our partnership with and the development of the eat. learn. live. School Garden Guide makes the benefits of school gardens accessible to all schools across the country.”

Initially, eight pilot locations were selected from across the country representing different stages of implementation, planting seasons and climates, and Chartwells and collaborated with the schools’ leadership on an implementation plan based on each school’s individual goals, needs and challenges. Through plan development, garden construction, planting and harvesting, the groups worked to identify best practices, tools and resources. 

The pilot locations were Duval County Public Schools in Florida, Spartanburg School District 3 in South Carolina, School District of the Chathams in New Jersey, Brockton Public Schools in Massachusetts, Reed City Public Schools in Michigan, Pattonville School District in Missouri, Moreau Catholic High School in California and Warren Township in Indiana. Since then, dozens of school districts have downloaded and requested the eat. learn. live. School Garden Guide through

Because the program is flexible, different districts have done different things with their garden programs. For example, Reed City High School participated with a well-developed program that featured a biodome, supported by a teacher and a dedicated class period, resulting in a truly unique learning experience for students that ended up being featured on the TV program “MSNBC Originals.” 

Meanwhile, Cannons Elementary School in the Spartanburg district already had a raised bed garden before becoming a pilot site, but was interested in exploring using its harvest in its café as well as available nutrition education materials to connect the hands-on experience for the students with classroom learning. 

This partnership successfully navigated both the GAP certification process and also piloted the nutrition education curriculum for the eat. learn. live. School Garden Guide. As a bonus, Cannons Elementary also uses biodegradable waste as compost to close the loop on planting, fertilizing, harvesting and eating.

Chartwells chefs and dietitians are key components of the program, from playing an active role in planting and assisting in student education to developing food safety protocols for utilizing garden harvest and developing recipes to create signature dishes for schools.

At the Pattonville district’s Youth Garden, Chartwells K12 chefs teamed up with kindergarten students to spend a day in the garden exploring and picking fresh produce while encouraging the tasting of the fresh product right from the plant and discussing the special recipes in which each fresh ingredient is included in the school café. 

Chefs also created signature recipes with each garden’s unique harvest, from fresh salsas and kale chips to sweet potato fries and spaghetti squash, as it was found that students who play a role in planting, tending and harvesting from the garden are more likely to try (and love!) these foods in the café.

“Research and our own experience indicate students who engage in the hands on experience of growing food in gardens are more likely to explore new foods,” says Saidel. “Their openness to try new foods creates an opportunity for schools to offer great tasting healthy food that students are more likely to try and love. Ultimately, well-nourished students are better prepared to learn in the classroom and make healthier choices both inside and outside of school. School gardens offer students the opportunity to connect with their food while enjoying experiential learning and some physical activity too!”

Any school district can request a copy of the eat. learn. live. School Garden Guide at and the program will also be awarding grant funds to school districts across the country to support school gardening efforts under the new eat. learn. live. and Grow School Garden Grant Program. The grant program is open to all school districts regardless of their partnership with Chartwells. 

In addition, beginning in July, the School Garden Program will be hosting a webinar series with HGTV gardening expert Charlie Nardozzi to support educators and garden coordinators with implementing or expanding their school garden programs. 


TAGS: K-12 Schools
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