An interview with Anne Nagro, a Master Gardener, school-garden volunteer and the author of Our Generous Garden (Dancing Rhinoceros Press, 2008).
Tell us about your school garden project.
I’m one of many volunteers at the Woodland Elementary West harvest garden in Gages Lake, Illinois, where 400 students plant vegetable seeds in their classrooms, care for seedlings and transplant them in a 150-by-40-foot plot. They learn about seed germination, plant life cycles and what plants need to thrive. Over the summer, children and parents water and weed the garden, and returning third graders help harvest vegetables. The students learn they can make a difference. Last year they donated 900 pounds of produce to the local food bank!
What surprises you most about children’s response to the garden?
The number who think vegetables originate at the grocery store, admit to never having planted anything before, or say, “You can’t eat something that grows out here on a plant!”
How do school gardens tie into academics?
Gardens are outdoor classrooms, perfect for observation and journaling, experimenting, even educational recess. Research shows a connection between hands-on gardening activities and higher science test scores.
What tips do you have for gardening with a child—or 400 of them?
Start with a few minutes, not hours, in the garden and build from there. Don’t fret if their planting skills don’t follow protocol. On most occasions, I’ve left my Master Gardener training at the curb. Roots down, green up is usually adequate.
How can Horticulture readers get involved in school garden projects?
Local cooperative extension offices, botanic gardens and farm bureaus organize school garden projects, so start there.
What inspired you to become a school garden volunteer?
Fours years ago, my second grader brought home a note seeking help for the school garden. My own gardens were places of rich discovery for my children, and I knew this was a project I could embrace. I didn’t realize then how much I’d learn.
Do you believe children are suffering from nature deficit, as author Richard Louv describes in Last Child in the Woods?
It may sound odd to avid gardeners, but many children—not just those in urban areas—have little contact with the great outdoors. Nature deficit is a problem, and I’ve seen this firsthand. That’s what makes the school garden such a great project. While having fun, students learn respect for the earth and for each other, as well as cooperation and responsibility.
You’re the author of Our Generous Garden. Tell us about it.
Two years ago I came home after an exhilarating, exhausting day of planting seedlings with hundreds of students and knew I had to tell this story. Our Generous Garden is based on Woodland’s project, but describes any garden. I hope it encourages children, parents, grandparents and caregivers to get their hands dirty together outdoors.
Co-Horts: What volunteer work are you doing? Share your story with us in the Gardener Next Door forum.