Chris Jones knows the power of a seed. From the readying of the soil, to the planting, to the ongoing care needed throughout the year, a number of schools within his district have seen firsthand the bountiful harvest a garden can bring.
“When the kids see vegetables growing and then discover them on their salads, they make a connection. It really comes full circle,” said Jones, the deputy superintendent for the Wiseburn School District. “I’ve seen the students learn about nutrition, science, conservation and life skills – all from the experience of planting and caring for a garden.”
To make the school garden a reality, Jones has relied on the services and support of GrowingGreat, a nonprofit school garden and nutrition education organization dedicated to inspiring children and adults to adopt healthy eating habits. The Manhattan Beach-based organization partners with schools and communities throughout California, providing a subscription-based education portal filled with scripted lesson plans, activity sheets and resources designed to help grow gardens and care for the environment.
In schools like the ones Jones serves, the PTA has typically picked up the membership fees for the portal, allowing science teachers and parent volunteers access to lessons centered on gardening. GrowingGreat has additionally offered assistance to connect schools with grant money, helping select schools purchase the materials needed to start and care for a garden. In December, the Adopt-A-School program encourages year-end donations that allow low-income schools from their waiting list to participate.
“When I worked in downtown Los Angeles, I saw schoolyards that didn’t have any green space at all – only cement and fences with locked gates,” said Jennifer Jovanovic, the nonprofit’s executive director who joined the team in 2014. “I see a GrowingGreat garden in one of those schools as a tiny oasis for children who may not experience living, growing plants in any other way.”
Today, GrowingGreat curriculum is leveraged in 60 schools, with 19 offering active outdoor gardens. The latest garden planting took place at Longfellow Elementary in Long Beach this fall.
The garden curriculum is geared toward students in kindergarten through fifth grade, while older elementary students receive advanced lessons on nutrition. Throughout the year, students learn about the right seasons to grow and harvest food, and everything involved with ongoing maintenance.
“I’m proud of the impact that GrowingGreat has had throughout Los Angeles County,” said Supervisor Don Knabe. “Children, who may have never had access to healthy, natural foods are learning the importance of nutrition and developing a skill that will positively impact their community.”
Most recently, the GrowingGreat team has worked to integrate new material and hands-on science education focused on using less water, given California’s severe drought conditions.
“In December we’re launching a series for families called ‘A Drink of Water/Un poco de agua’ which helps children understand what plants need to grow, even during a drought,” said Jovanovic. “We are building the next generation of Californians and teaching them to be water-smart at a young age.”
Under Jovanovic’s leadership, GrowingGreat plans to expand their programming beyond schools to museums and science centers nationwide. To learn more about GrowingGreat and discover how you can donate to Adopt-A-School or bring a garden to your community, visit growinggreat.org.