JCN&M Study Investigates Benefits and Barriers to Implementation of School Gardens

2017-06-29

The following is the fourth in a series of news stories examining each of the JCN&M papers in the Spring 2017 Issue.

Tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, radishes, onions, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, beans, peas, zucchini, summer squash, pumpkins, corn, cauliflower and asparagus.

In recent years, vegetable gardens of all shapes and sizes have sprung up at schools all across the U.S. Using rakes, spades and other gardening tools, students attending kindergarten through high school have grown every kind of vegetable imageable, only to be later served in their school cafeteria as part of their lunch meal. What started this trend?

To comply with revised nutrition standards from Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, many schools were challenged to serve healthy meals, provide physical activity and nutrition education to students, as well as maintain financial and educational accountability. To meet these rigorous requirements, schools needed to find efficient, comprehensive ways to integrate nutrition and physical activity into the normal school day.

Many schools discovered one possible solution through the successful implementation of a school gardening initiative. Recent studies have shown children at schools with gardening programs have reduced sedentary behaviors and increased moderate and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity during school days.

In a new study in the Research in Action category of the latest issue of SNA’s Journal of Child Nutrition & Management, researchers Alicia S. Landry, PhD, RD and Brittany K. Logue, MS, RD were able to gain insight into the perspectives of school administrators or designees such as principals, teachers, child nutrition directors, parent volunteers or community volunteers regarding school gardens and determine the benefits and barriers of implementing school gardens. Survey of Principals Regarding Perceived Benefits and Barriers of School Gardens found that space, funding and personnel to be the top issues for school nutrition professionals needed to consider before initiating a school garden.

The study reviled that most of the 127 schools surveyed without school gardens were interested in developing one, especially using raised beds with the produce to be used for academic instruction and consumption. However, the main barriers keeping these schools from having a garden was lack of gardening supplies and funding.

Researchers Landry and Logue believe that school nutrition professionals can play a big part in helping to overcome some of the challenges found in establishing a school garden. They surmise, that if gardening materials and activities can support the school nutrition operation or improve the school meal program, reasonable expenses from cafeteria funds can be used for garden development. More importantly, school garden grants are available from non-profit groups, and school nutrition professionals are encouraged to work collaboratively to obtain these funds. An excellent resource to provide expert guidance on how to find and apply for school garden grants can be obtained by attending an Education Session at SNA’s Annual National Conference (ANC) in Atlanta, entitled “Finding Funding: Searching For Hidden Treasures.”

In terms of benefits, the study says developing a school garden aligns with previous research on the subject, which state garden-based nutrition education can improve a student’s dietary behaviors and related psychosocial factors such as attitudes and beliefs about fruits and vegetables. It further suggests that the hands-on experience of planting, nurturing, and then harvesting products brings a sense of achievement and accountability unique to eating produce out of a school garden, which may be one reason why children seem to prefer vegetables they cultivate.

In summation, the study finds school garden efforts led by school nutrition professionals could be a worthwhile source of positive learning experiences for students and publicity for a school district as well as for their respective school nutrition programs.

About The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management:

The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management (JCN&M) is the exclusive source for research findings in this profession, and it features a variety of studies in the following four categories: Research in Action, Current Issues, Practical Solutions and FNS Research Corner. Published twice a year, this peer-reviewed research journal is available free of charge, online only. Read the current issue today.

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