Roberta Paolo (aka Granny) harbors a love for gardening and believes that flowers are for picking. Many years ago, noticing her grand children's fascination with the the plants in her garden, Roberta created a community garden at Loveland Elementary School in Loveland, Ohio, where all the school children could have the chance to enjoy the simple splendor of flowers.
Today, 10 years later, Roberta's school flower garden has blossomed into Granny's Garden School. It includes 100 vegetable and flower beds, a small apple orchard and a three-quarter mile nature trail on the Loveland Primary and Elementary School property.
But Granny's Garden School is more than just a garden, it is now a 501(c)(3)non-profit organization consisting of a board of directors, five full-time garden coordinators, local volunteers, teachers, parents and students who work as a team to nurture a community-wide passion for gardening. Each week, students in the first through fourth grades spend 30 minutes weeding, planting and harvesting in the gardens. Classroom teachers are assigned a Class Garden Coordinator who is responsible for preparing and leading gardening lessons, which are tailored to the State of Ohio's education standards.
"The focus of the gardens is education, not nutrition," says Roberta. "Students are experiencing new vegetables. The parents are amazed by their children's positive response to tasting the fresh vegetables they grow in the school gardens."
Granny's Garden School is a staple of community involvement, as dozens of local volunteers and organizations contribute to the success of this organization. To date, 25 projects have been completed by the Eagle Scouts including five learning centers and modifications to the nature trail. "Once I have a project in mind, I bring it to the Eagle Scouts and they take care of it," says Roberta. "They handle the design, planning and hiring professional labor. It is a wonderful partnership."
In 2003, Roberta partnered with Meals-on-Wheels to found Bouquets-on-Wheels a program that shares flowers grown in Granny's Garden School with recipients of weekly meals. Each week during the school year, second grade students assemble 50 fresh bouquets that are delivered with meals. To date, more than 3,000 bouquets have been delivered to meal recipients.
Local gardeners are welcome to volunteer year-round in Granny's Gardens. For those with limited schedules, the Garden Share Program enables volunteers to maintain a garden plot during the summer months for a minimal fee of $35.00.
Granny's Garden School has also paved the path for transforming school grounds into sustainable environments. In response to more than 275 visits from aspiring school garden coordinators from near and far, Roberta developed the Schoolyard Nature Network, with the immediate goal of serving as a guide for creating sustainable environments. This free program seeks to strengthen the school garden movement by focusing on the fundamentals of creating and maintaining the physical garden, integrating state educational standards into each garden lesson plan and securing funding and supplies.
For those who aspire to grow a community or school garden, Roberta has these three tips:
1. Take one of Granny's Garden School's workshops. These classes discuss the basics of beginning and maintaining a community garden including the need for volunteers, ways to obtain funding and how to tailor gardening lesson plans to match the State of Ohio Curriculum Standards.
2. Start small. "A garden will not grow over night", Roberta says. "It takes time, dedication and a devoted leader or team of leaders to ensure the survival of a community garden."
3. Put a garden-wise individual to oversee the whole operation who "is willing to donate themselves to this project. A garden will not grow without someone tending it," says Roberta. "It [Granny's Garden School] has taken over my life—except for my family—and it has been a truly rewarding experience."
Find free garden lesson plans, advice about beginning a school gardening program and much more at www.grannysgardenschool.org.
View more images of Granny's Garden School Below.