OKC Harvest - A School Garden Support Program
Our goal is to enable students to experience hands-on learning through the transformative experience of gardening at school. To do this we involve students in the preparation of garden soil, planting, growing and eating healthy foods. To us, gardening is also about contacting and experiencing the beauty of nature. We also tie the cycles and systems present in the garden to what students learn in the classroom. The garden gives students alternate worlds - the micro and the macro - into which they can gaze while writing, reading or working, whether it is Science, Language or Math.
The transformative aspect of garden-based learning comes from students absorbing a blend of STEM and nutrition knowledge through real-world situations. During even the most basic gardening experiences, students benefit physically, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes the positive effects are immediate in the form of improved mood, but we understand that, more importantly, each garden lesson leaves impressions on students that have life-long positive impacts, including their propensity to eat fruits and vegetables as adults.
Why is OKC Beautiful investing in school gardens? Because a child who has experienced nature can learn to care about it. We want to help nurture the next generation of environmental stewards who will be involved and active in helping to make Oklahoma City a beautiful, safe and healthy place to live.
Even more importantly, the children of Oklahoma City need us. National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) ranks OK 43rd in Education Quality. We have the 5th highest percentage of obese 10 – 17-year-olds in the country (www.StateofObesity.org, 2017). Studies show that children who garden have better eating habits even as adults. And school gardens benefit academic outcomes. Many students in Oklahoma City lack enriching and diverse experiences. Gardening at school addresses this in a multitude of ways. Each garden lesson provides the stimulation of a field trip without the students having to get on a bus. Click here for a list of studies on the benefits of school gardens.
The Garden Educator Pilot Program
Within the national movement of school garden support organizations, it is recognized that volunteer-based garden programs often ebb and flow, creating a one step up, two steps back reality for schools. Without a reliably maintained garden, teachers are not able to tie the garden into their lesson plans. And, as teacher turnover continues to plague many school districts, efforts to rest the responsibility for maintenance and curriculum on teachers typically results in failure.
Armed with this knowledge, OKC Harvest has implemented the Garden Educator Pilot Program through which we are now providing a paid garden educator at two schools. This pilot program is designed to demonstrate the benefits of the garden educator model so that we can make this model permanent and replicate it in all of our schools.
The garden educators coordinate weekly maintenance and provide garden lessons regularly to students. Our garden-based and health-centered curriculum ties into state academic standards and emphasizes Sciences, Math and Language concepts. Through the Garden Educator Program students
- See the garden transform weekly.
- Frequently taste foods they have had a hand in growing.
- Receive information about the health benefits of consuming the foods they grow.
- Have regular direct interaction with nature as they learn to both understand and care for the garden ecosystem.
- Regularly practice garden journaling in order to expand their powers of observation.
- Gain pride in themselves and their school as they see long term projects come to fruition for all to see and enjoy.
The OKC Harvest Garden Educator Pilot Program is Sponsored by:
OKC Harvest History
OKC Harvest began in 2012 by two citizens passionate about the benefits of school gardens. They found enormous support within the community as they began to build gardens in schools. To grow their capacity, in 2014 OKC Harvest partnered with OKC Beautiful in order to generate more volunteer power obtain funding. By 2017 OKC Harvest boasted 24 garden installations around OKC. All gardens were cared for 100% by volunteers within each schoolor community center.
In 2018 OKC Beautiful took over OKC Harvest and hired Kat Gant to support the program. Due to unforseen high turnover among staff and teachers within our schools, many of the gardens had begun to suffer. Kat began going beyond providing seeds and supplies to gardens and began working one on one with key teachers to improve how effectively the gardens were being used. She connected teachers with curriculum, added indoor gardening gateway activities like worm bins, recruited volunteers from surrounding neighborhoods and developed plans for the long-term sustainability of each garden. The Garden Educator Pilot Program is the next phase in ensuring the gardens are maintained as beautiful oases on school campuses that are utilized to their fullest potential.