School Gardens Help Cultivate the Next Generation of Local Gardeners

Joy Goldin &nbsp&nbsp Students in St. Philip Neri Catholic School’s Garden Science program tend the garden plot that adjoins their campus on Van Buren Street.

School Gardens Help Cultivate the Next Generation of Local Gardeners

The history of school gardens dates back to the late 19th century in the United States. When the U.S. entered World War I, Americans were encouraged to utilize land for the sake of food security on a community and national level. The more food that communities were able to produce, the more that would be available to ship overseas to our soldiers and allies. 

Numerous school gardens popped up as a result, leading the U.S. Bureau of Education to develop the United States School Garden Army (USSGA), a governmental effort to make agriculture part of the public school curriculum. Idle land on urban and suburban school properties was used as a means to grow food, teach better nutritional habits and increase youth civic engagement. 

By the end of World War I, the USSGA campaign dropped off, but many people continued to garden in “victory gardens” at home. When the U.S. entered World War II, the concept of growing food on all available land was renewed with a campaign for food rationing and self-sufficiency.

With a mild climate that allows for a 365-day growing season, it’s no surprise that more than half of Alameda’s public and private schools have a school-based gardening program. 

Added to that number are the many preschool gardens and youth education programs, like the elaborate garden at the Alameda Boys and Girls Club. Most public schools rely on parent volunteers, part-time garden docents and teachers to administer the garden programs. Funding is often limited to fundraising, grants and the generosity of parents and parent-teacher associations.

School garden programs afford children the opportunity to learn about growing food and eating fresh fruits and vegetables during the school year. Students often marvel at how much better food tastes when it’s harvested and eaten fresh, which gives educators an opportunity to talk to about what it means to “eat local” and “in season.”

The school garden can be used for much more than just planting, harvesting and eating. Garden educators work across disciplines to incorporate science, math, social studies, nutrition, food justice and much more into the school garden curriculum. The emphasis is not only on growing food, but on social and emotional learning skills like teamwork and responsible decision making as well. 

Good decision making encompasses making better choices for the environment and improving eco-literacy with the application of environmental concepts in the garden.

While school gardens have been around for over a hundred years, the last two decades have slightly shifted educational focus from the technical skills of gardening to the protection and preservation of natural resources and sustainable practices. With the support of the community, there is much that can be done to influence and cultivate the next generation of gardeners and change makers.


Alameda Backyard Growers (ABG) is a network of gardeners in Alameda interested in growing food and donating fresh produce to neighbors who face food insecurity. Find the schedule for ABG’s monthly education meetings and information on ABG’s various community projects at