Student Run School Garden Revolution Growing  in Arizona

Student Run School Garden Revolution Growing In Arizona

Thu 12 May 2011

Story by Kate McClendon

The students at Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center (ANLC) are learning of the benefits of locally grown produce firsthand, by planting and growing their own vegetables in gardens on campus.

Since the school started twenty years ago, the garden has been an integral focus of the curriculum. Each class has a plot in the school’s main garden and it is up to the students to decide how their plots are used. At the start of the school year, students select their class’ garden plot and decide upon a unique theme. Every class has a Garden Mom or Dad who volunteers to help with the garden. In the early fall, there is an organized garden clean-up whereby families of students volunteer their time to weed and prepare the garden for planting.

The gardens are completely student driven, so the children alone decide what will be planted. This year, classes have selected themes such as a pizza garden to grow toppings or a salsa garden to grow delicious, fresh salsa ingredients. Students in the 5th and 6th grades studying Greek and Roman history planted items relating to subject matter taught in lessons, such as wheat. Some of the plots, however, are more free form and include a diverse range of plants and flowers.

The students have most definitely benefitted from their plots. Last year, one class created a salad from their harvest that they took great pleasure in being able to eat. Another had grown enough produce so that each student could take home lettuce greens, cilantro and I’itoi onions (a variety of green onion) for their families to enjoy.

The students also decide how the ANLC gardens are tended. The kids decide how to space the seeds and when to water. Lessons in seed spacing and proper watering can sometimes only be learned through trial and error. Each class is given an allowance by the Parent-Teacher Organization, they hold fundraisers in order to help subsidize the upkeep of the gardens. A garden closet is also available to all classes, with donated items from local nurseries including seeds, fertilizer, and compost.

Along with the main garden, the campus also has two vertical gardens and a desert garden with a pond and a habitat for a desert tortoise. To increase their gardening space, the school built the two vertical gardens using Woolly Pockets - flexible, breathable gardening containers that can be hung on walls. One of their vertical gardens is a living wall of succulents and the other consists of herbs and vegetables planted by the 7th and 8th graders.

Every spring the school, inviting families onto the campus, holds a huge event, whereby each class releases lady bugs into the garden.

The ANLC gardens were revamped a few years ago to add raised beds and fruit trees. The parents have also been working with the school to create a more unified focus for the gardens. Their goal is to eventually move away from individual themes and instead have a garden that can provide a bountiful supply of edible produce including vegetables to be featured in student lunches.

The gardens have been such a vital part of the school that after a recent bond election, the school is using some of the funds to increase their garden space and to re-design their cafeteria kitchen. Parents and staff are determined that the gardens fulfill their mission of providing added nutritional value for school lunches. They no longer want their kitchen to be a place that simply reheats food.They want a workable kitchen that is equipped and ready to prepare fresh food from scratch.

About the Author: Kate McClendon works with her husband and in-laws on their family farm, McClendon’s Select, in Peoria, Arizona. McClendon’s Select is a certified organic farm that grows 150 varieties of fruits and vegetables throughout the year that are supplied to local restaurants and are sold to the public at two weekly farmers’ markets. For more information, you can visit Kate’s blog at


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