School Gardens in New York City: Grow to Learn NYC


My favorite thing about writing this blog is how much closer my relationship with New York City feels with each article. It’s such a massive area, both in terms of geography and population density, and it can be hard to wrap your head around the five boroughs as a single unified concept. As I was trucking through my favorite urban gardening websites today, an article about combating childhood obesity by using school gardens as an educational tool jumped out at me, so as usual I followed the breadcrumbs. NYC has a focused, organized, and pretty inspiring program to promote school gardens; every new discovery like this opens my eyes to a new side of New York, and I swear it’s like getting to know a person with a very complex character. But I digress. I want to talk about school gardens!

First of all (and this isn’t something I usually bother to comment on), The Citywide School Gardens Initiative, called Grow to Learn NYC, has an amazing website. Visually appealing, it has moving images like a bee and butterfly, graphics that are full of vitality (which is hard to convey on a computer screen), pages that highlight the students’ point of view, and it was just really fun and enjoyable to interact with – I highly suggest visiting. Most importantly, it’s a site that offers interactive information for kids, not just adults.

Sure there were school gardens before 2010, but that’s when this centralized partnership between the Mayor’s Fund, GrowNYC, and several other public and private organizations formed. Now there’s coordinated planning, fundraising and communication, driven by the Grow to Learn NYC Steering Committee. Currently there are 225 school gardens registered with Grow to Learn – PlaNYC’s goal was 150 by 2013, so that’s wonderful. The Garden to Café program is one of my favorite aspects of Grow to Learn, because it helps school cafeterias serve food grown in the very gardens the students worked in.

Grow to Learn states on its website:

Our goal is to see that every New York City public school student has the opportunity to get their hands into the soil — and learn and grow.

Love it. The idea of school gardens seems so especially important in a metropolis like New York, because as I’ve mentioned before in earlier posts, so many kids never get a chance to leave the city and see a real farm, and are left out of touch and guessing about where the food in a store or on their table comes from. Education shouldn’t just be about facts and figures, but about hands on learning that brings us closer to the world we live in.

So why should schools and parent organizations consider including a garden on school grounds? Grow to Learn highlights these positive benefits:

  • Changes eating habits
  • Improves test scores
  • Connects children to the environment
  • Fights childhood obesity
  • Promotes physical activity
  • Changes attitudes toward learning

I am elated that I realized I should be writing about this topic, and I hope you’re interested in it too, because you will be seeing a lot more posts about school gardens from now on. Please let me know if there’s a school garden you think I ought to cover here, whether you’re an educator, parent, student, or anyone else! You can let others know about school gardens you admire or have thoughts on by leaving a comment as well. Spread the word about them – they’re definitely a community asset.


About Alex Holt

I am a local artist from Brooklyn, NY. I love art, design, books, photography, gardening and blogging.
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One Response to School Gardens in New York City: Grow to Learn NYC

  1. Love your enthusiasm, and I share it! I am a garden coordinator here in San Diego, and my blog is about “making a case for school gardens from every angle I can think of,” with a focus on good stories that come from school gardens. If you’d like to follow the breadcrumbs….. Thanks for the link. I will definitely check it out!

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