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School fruit & vegetable gardens

Evidence Rating

Scientifically Supported

Health Factors

School gardens are generally on school grounds, and allow students to garden during school or non-school hours with school staff guidance. School gardens are typically accompanied by nutrition education, food preparation lessons, and fruit and vegetable tasting opportunities. School gardens can also provide students with hands-on learning opportunities in subjects like science, math, health, and environmental studies.       

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased willingness to try fruits & vegetables

  • Increased access to fruits & vegetables

  • Increased fruit & vegetable consumption

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that school gardens increase participating children’s vegetable consumption and willingness to try new vegetables (, Scherr 2013, , , , Murphy 2003). Establishing school gardens is a recommended strategy to promote healthy eating, improve nutrition, and reduce obesity (CDC-School-based obesity prevention, CDC MMWR-School health guidelines 2011, CDC-Fruits and vegetables 2011, IOM 2009). 

Gardening increases vegetable consumption in children; research suggests this may be because it increases access to vegetables and decreases children’s reluctance to try new foods (, Scherr 2013, , Murphy 2003, , ). Garden-based nutrition intervention programs have also been shown to increase health-related knowledge, willingness to taste, and preference for fruits and vegetables in schools around the country (, , , , Koch 2006, Morris 2001, , Morgan 2010, , , Dirks 2005).

Research suggests that short-term after school gardening activities are less effective at changing children’s fruit and vegetable preference and consumption than year-long in school programs (O’Brien 2006, Poston 2005). Students participating in a school garden program as part of a multi-component intervention that includes activities such as farm to school, farmers’ visits to schools, taste testing, field trips to farms, and in-class lessons have greater increases in fruit and vegetable knowledge, preference, and intake than students participating in school gardens alone ().

School gardens can also enhance academic instruction (, ) at the middle (Murphy 2003) and possibly elementary school level (Klemmer 2005, Pigg 2006). 

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Most states have schools with school gardens (NASBE-Competitive foods, Kidsgardening.org). State departments of education, departments of agriculture, and university extension programs can actively encourage school gardening; examples include: California (CDE-Gardens), Florida (FL DOE-Gardens), South Carolina (SCDA), and Louisiana (LSU-Ag Center). 

Implementation Resources

WI DHS-Got Dirt - Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). Nutrition and physical activity program: Got dirt? Gardening initiative.

NASBE-Competitive foods - National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). Competitive foods in school.

Kidsgardening.org - KidsGardening. Helping young minds grow.

WI DHS-Got veggies - Community Ground Works (CGW), Wisconsin Nutrition, Physical Activity & Obesity Program. Got veggies? A youth garden-based nutrition education curriculum. Madison: Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS); 2010.

USDA-Dig in - Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Dig in! Standards-based nutrition education from the Ground Up. US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

USDA-Garden detective - Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Welcome: Getting started with the great garden detective adventure. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

IOM 2009 - Institute of Medicine (IOM), National Research Council (NRC), Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention Actions for Local Governments. Local government actions to prevent childhood obesity. (Parker L, Burns AC, Sanchez E, eds.). Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2009.

CDC MMWR-School health guidelines 2011 - National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH). School health guidelines to promote healthy eating and physical activity. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2011:60(RR-05):1-71.

Robinson-OBrien 2009* - Robinson-O’Brien R, Story M, Heim S. Impact of garden-based youth nutrition intervention programs: A review. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009;109(2):273-80.

Ozer 2007* - Ozer EJ. The effects of school gardens on students and schools: Conceptualization and considerations for maximizing healthy development. Health Education & Behavior. 2007;34(6):846-63.

Blair 2009* - Blair D. The child in the garden: An evaluative review of the benefits of school gardening. Journal of Environmental Education. 2009;40(2):15-38.

Ratcliffe 2011* - Ratcliffe MM, Merrigan KA, Rogers BL, Goldberg JP. The effects of school garden experiences on middle school-aged students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors associated with vegetable consumption. Health Promotion Practice. 2011;12(1):36-43.

Parmer 2009* - Parmer SM, Salisbury-Glennon J, Shannon D, Struempler B. School gardens: An experiential learning approach for a nutrition education program to increase fruit and vegetable knowledge, preference, and consumption among second-grade students. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2009;41(3):212-7.

Graham 2005* - Graham H, Beall DL, Lussier M, McLaughlin P, Zidenberg-Cherr S. Use of school gardens in academic instruction. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2005;37(3):147-51.

Graham 2005a* - Graham H, Zidenberg-Cherr S. California teachers perceive school gardens as an effective nutritional tool to promote healthful eating habits. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2005;105(11):1797-1800.

CDC-School-based obesity prevention - National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH). School-based obesity prevention strategies for state policymakers. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC-Fruits and vegetables 2011 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strategies to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases: The CDC guide to strategies to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2011.

Langellotto 2012* - Langellotto GA, Gupta A. Gardening increases vegetable consumption in school-aged children: A meta-analytical synthesis. HortTechnology. 2012;22(4):430–45.

Scherr 2013 - Scherr RE, Cox RJ, Feenstra G, Zidenberg-Cherr S. Integrating local agriculture into nutrition programs can benefit children’s health. California Agriculture. 2013;67(1):30–7.

Cotugna 2012* - Cotugna N, Manning CK, DiDomenico J. Impact of the use of produce grown in an elementary school garden on consumption of vegetable at school lunch. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2012;7(1):11–19.

Koch 2006 - Koch S, Waliczek TM, Zajicek JM. The effect of a summer garden program on the nutritional knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of children. HortTechnology. 2006;16(4):620-4.

McAleese 2007* - McAleese JD, Rankin LL. Garden-based nutrition education affects fruit and vegetable consumption in sixth-grade adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2007;107(4):662-5.

Morris 2001 - Morris JL, Neustadter A, Zidenberg-Cherr S. First-grade gardeners more likely to taste vegetables. California Agriculture. 2001;55(1):43-6.

Morgan 2010 - Morgan PJ, Warren JM, Lubans DR, et al. The impact of nutrition education with and without a school garden on knowledge, vegetable intake and preferences and quality of school life among primary-school students. Public Health Nutrition. 2010;13(11):1931–40.

Klemmer 2005 - Klemmer CD, Waliczek TM, Zajicek JM. Growing minds: The effect of a school gardening program on the science achievement of elementary students. HortTechnology. 2005;15(3):448–52.

Murphy 2003 - Murphy JM. Education of sustainability: Findings from the evaluation study of the edible schoolyard. Berkeley: Center for Ecoliteracy; 2003.

Morris 2002* - Morris JL, Zidenberg-Cherr S. Garden-enhanced nutrition curriculum improves fourth-grade school children’s knowledge of nutrition and preferences for some vegetables. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2002;102(1):91–3.

O’Brien 2006 - O’Brien SA, Shoemaker CA. An after-school gardening club to promote fruit and vegetable consumption: The assessment of social cognitive theory constructs. HortTechnology. 2006;16(1):24–9.

Poston 2005 - Poston SA, Shoemaker CA, Dzewaltowski DA. A comparison of a gardening and nutrition program with a standard nutrition program in an out-of-school setting. HortTechnology. 2005;15(3):463–7.

Gatto 2012* - Gatto NM, Ventura EE, Cook LT, Gyllenhammer LE, Davis JN. LA Sprouts: A garden-based nutrition intervention pilot program influences motivation and preferences for fruits and vegetables in Latino youth. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2012;112(6):913–20.

Dirks 2005 - Dirks AE, Orvis K. An evaluation of the junior master gardener program in third grade classrooms. HortTechnology. 2005;15(3):443-7.

Evans 2012a* - Evans A, Ranjit N, Rutledge R, et al. Exposure to multiple components of a garden-based intervention for middle school students increases fruit and vegetable consumption. Health Promotion Practice. 2012;13(5):608-16.

Jaenke 2012* - Jaenke RL, Collins CE, Morgan PJ, et al. The impact of a school garden and cooking program on boys’ and girls' fruit and vegetable preferences, taste rating, and intake. Health Education & Behavior. 2012;39(2):131–41.

Pigg 2006 - Pigg AE, Waliczek TM, Zajicek JM. Effects of a gardening program on the academic progress of third, fourth, and fifth grade math and science students. HortTechnology. 2006;16(2):262–4.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

NASBE-Competitive foods - National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). Competitive foods in school.

CDE-Gardens - California Department of Education (CDE). A garden in every school.

FL DOE-Gardens - Florida Department of Education (FL DOE). School gardens.

LSU-Ag Center - Louisiana State University (LSU) Agriculture Center. School gardens.

SCDA - South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA). School gardens program.

Kidsgardening.org - KidsGardening. Helping young minds grow.

Date Last Updated

Jan 8, 2014
  • Scientifically Supported: Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.
  • Some Evidence: Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.
  • Expert Opinion: Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.
  • Insufficient Evidence: Strategies with this rating have limited research documenting effects. These strategies need further research, often with stronger designs, to confirm effects.
  • Mixed Evidence: Strategies with this rating have been tested more than once and results are inconsistent or trend negative; further research is needed to confirm effects.
  • Evidence of Ineffectiveness: Strategies with this rating are not good investments. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently negative and sometimes harmful results.

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