Sustainable Cities™

New York City: The school garden is the new classroom

The purpose of the new garden on the roof of a school in New York City is to reach students in a new, interactive way. School gardens provide obvious opportunities to tell children about the climate, good food and a nutritious diet, but they also pave the way for a more healthy life style using a different, more practical 'hands-on' way of teaching, that can be linked to practically every subject taught at the school.

Taghave som klasseværelse i New York City. Foto venligst udlånt af Rachel Kangas.

On the roof of the Robert Simon Complex on Lower East Side, there will soon be a roof kitchen garden. The garden belongs to three municipal schools in the area and will function as an outdoor classroom for students of all grades. The project is being managed by the designer of the World Trade Center Memorial, Michael Arad, who is also a parent at the school, although the idea for the garden and the initiative came from a large group of volunteer teachers and parents at the schools. Construction of the garden began in the autumn/fall of 2010, and in the autumn of 2012 the children should be able to plug their first vegetables in the 280 m² roof garden with an impressive view of the city.

The parents and teachers want to use the garden to bring focus to obesity among children and to create an alternative to the poor, frequently fried lunches many of the children consume. In the United States, two out of three children are overweight and the problem is getting worse. Obesity will likely have serious health-related consequences for the children. For instance, obesity increases the risk of developing type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease at an early age, and there is also a risk of the children ending up overweight as adults. It is therefore important for the children to have good, healthy diet and exercise habits from an early age.

By integrating the garden into the schools' existing curriculum, the children will learn about nutrition and gain a better understanding of the importance of good, nutritious food. The idea is for the students to taste vegetables they have grown themselves and prepared in the school canteens, and the intention is that this will play an important role in influencing their diets and eating habits.

NYC roof top schoolgarden. Courtesy of Rachel Kangas.

Since September 2009, Springs School in East Hampton in New York State has had an 'edible schoolyard' in a greenhouse next to it. The garden, like the roof garden in New York, was established and is managed by volunteers. It has a full-time gardener/'Food Educator', who tends the garden as well as helping the teachers to include the outdoor classroom and its many possibilities into their teaching. For example, the students have been taught by a nutrition expert who has explained to them how best to look after their own bodies by means of the right diet and adequate exercise.

The school has drawn up a teaching plan for all eight grades, with hands-on assignments linked to the garden. The students work with themes concerning the role of food in the job of creating a sustainable planet. The students learn to grow and harvest vegetables and fruits. They have taken soil samples, invented a composting machine and used 3-D animation software to construct garden projects before they are realised outdoors. They arrange parties for their families and friends, at which the harvest is shown off, prepared and tasted. The students also sell vegetables, cuttings and bouquets of flowers at markets and to local restaurants. They are taught about other civilisations, learn about food from all over the world and in their home economics lessons they collaborate with local restaurants to make good, nutritious food for themselves and their families.

"It's incredible to watch children go into the garden and say, 'Oh God, I didn't realise carrots grew like that." - Judiann Carmack, who teaches environment and landscape design at Bridgehampton and Ross Schools.

The origin of the school gardens' origins

Alice Waters is a restaurant owner and proponent of organically and locally grown foods. In 1996 she established a school garden known as the "The Edible School Yard" at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California. The 4 km² garden has an adjoining classroom and kitchen facilities. They have drawn up an eco-gastronomic study plan and the edible garden activates thousands of students in all aspects of the food production cycle. The programme has achieved national acclaim for its efforts to integrate garden work and cookery into the school curriculum. Alice Waters also set up the Chez Panisse Foundation in 1996, which supports School gardens and encourages similar programmes, which base teaching and upbringing on food traditions. The success of the edible gardens led to the School Lunch initiative and has resulted in nutritious lunches and gardening experience becoming an obligatory part of the curriculum of all schools in the United States.

School gardens in Denmark

It would be possible to establish gardens on the flat roofs on many Danish schools, for example on the 1970s prefab classrooms. Doing so would partly contribute to the struggle against climate change and partly integrate gardening into teaching at all grades and in relation to many different subjects.

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014