School fruit & vegetable gardens

Evidence Rating  
Scientifically Supported
Evidence rating: 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.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Community in Action

School gardens encourage students to garden during school or non-school hours with school staff guidance, generally on school grounds. 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 such as science, math, health, and environmental studies.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased fruit & vegetable consumption

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved nutrition

  • Reduced obesity rates

  • Increased physical activity

  • Improved health-related knowledge

  • Enhanced academic instruction

  • Reduced emissions

What does the research say about effectiveness? This strategy is rated scientifically supported.

There is strong evidence that school gardens increase participating children’s vegetable consumption1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Establishing school gardens is also a recommended strategy to promote healthy eating, improve nutrition, and reduce obesity9, 10, 11, 12. Additional evidence is needed to determine long-term effects3, 4.

Gardening increases vegetable consumption among children, perhaps due to increased access to vegetables and decreased reluctance to try new foods6, 7, 13, 14, 15, 16. School gardening activities may also modestly reduce BMI and improve health outcomes overall1, 2. School garden participation can also increase elementary school children’s moderate and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) during the school day17, 18.

School garden activities that are combined with nutrition and cooking education may be more effective at increasing children’s vegetable consumption than garden activities alone2. Students participating in a school garden program as part of a multi-component intervention that includes activities such as farmers’ visits to schools, taste testing, field trips to farms, in-class lessons, and farm to school programs have greater increases in fruit and vegetable knowledge, preference, and intake than students participating in school gardens alone19, 20. Garden-based nutrition intervention programs have also been shown to increase vegetable consumption21, health-related knowledge, willingness to taste, and preference for fruits and vegetables22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33. A Texas-based study found that a school gardening, cooking, and nutrition intervention reduced highly processed food consumption, improved glucose control, and reduced LDL cholesterol in addition to increasing vegetable consumption34, 35.

School gardens can enhance academic instruction36, 37, 38 at the middle and possibly elementary school level39, 40. School gardens are associated with higher test scores among some students41, 42, as well as increased science knowledge and engagement among participating students43, 44. More intensive garden interventions are associated with greater knowledge gains44. School gardens may also promote social and emotional learning (SEL)45 and one study found that a school garden program was associated with increased school connectedness, especially for Hispanic and female students46.

Research suggests that establishing, integrating, and sustaining successful school gardens over time requires garden evaluation and input from diverse stakeholders such as administrators, teachers, parents, students, and community members47, 48. Research also suggests dedicated resources in the form of garden funding, teacher training, and curriculum as well as administrative support and community partnerships are key supports for garden success47, 48, 49, 50. Experts recommend combining school gardens with nutrition education to increase children’s vegetable consumption51. Barriers to school gardens can include limited funding and limited staff or volunteer availability52, 53.

State laws that support school gardens are associated with the use of garden produce in school nutrition programs54. School gardens may support local, seasonal eating among participants and in school cafeterias, which may reduce emissions from fossil fuels used to produce, process, and transport food55, 56, 57, 58. Participating in gardening activities may also reduce the energy intensity of an individual’s diet if more plant-based foods are consumed in place of animal products55.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated potential to decrease disparities: suggested by expert opinion.

School gardens are a suggested strategy to reduce disparities in fruit and vegetable consumption between children from communities with low incomes and those from communities with higher incomes11, 67. School gardens can increase fruit and vegetable consumption at school as well as increase knowledge and preference for vegetables among students from families with low incomes8, 68. School gardens that are combined with cooking and nutrition interventions can increase fruit and vegetable consumption, decrease consumption of highly processed foods, and improve health outcomes for students from families with low incomes34, 35, 69. Research also suggests that a gardening and healthy eating program can improve student self-efficacy for healthy eating in Tribal schools70.

School gardens appear to be more prevalent in urban districts than rural ones, and in the western U.S. than in other regions. School gardens are less prevalent in schools with high proportions of students from families with lower incomes than in schools in more affluent areas71, which may be partially due to resource constraints72. Research suggests that community involvement, freely available garden curriculum, and education for garden staff can help facilitate successful school gardens in communities with low incomes72.

What is the relevant historical background?

Throughout U.S. history, discriminatory housing, lending, and exclusionary zoning policies entrenched racial residential segregation and concentrated poverty73, 74. This systemic disinvestment and exclusion by both government and private entities created and maintains community environments with limited resources, deteriorating infrastructure, hazardous industries and waste disposal sites, and many other factors that lead to poorer health outcomes for people of color and people with low incomes75, 76, 77, 78. Communities shaped by discriminatory policies are often areas that have limited access to healthy and affordable food, formerly known as food deserts79, 80. Individuals who live in these communities face higher food costs, fewer store options, and must travel further to purchase healthy food than those who live in well-resourced communities79. Residents also have increased exposure to high calorie foods that have little nutritional value, which often leads to worse health outcomes80. Many rural areas also lack access to fresh and affordable food, even in areas where farming is an important part of the local economy81.

School gardens have had many different purposes throughout their history in the U.S. The first recorded school garden was established in 1891 in Roxbury, MA82. School gardens in the early 1900s focused on learning and character building for students. During World War I, the focus shifted to gardens as a source of wartime food production and the Department of the Interior created the United States School Garden Army program83. During the Great Depression that followed in the 1930s, school gardens began to disappear as school funding dried up, but youth continued to garden in homes and communities as a source of food. School gardens became more popular again during World War II amid government promotion of “Victory Gardens” but declined as the availability of processed and pre-packaged foods began to increase in the 1950s83. During the environmental movement in the 1970s and again with the beginning of farm-to-school programs in the 1990s, school gardens surged in popularity as programs for environmental and agricultural education84.

Equity Considerations
  • Who decides if a school garden will be started or sustained? Who should have a voice in ongoing school garden decisions? How can community partnerships and stakeholders be included so that school garden decision makers reflect your local community?
  • How will the school garden be funded? How does the amount of funding and the stability of funding impact the program and who can be involved?
  • How can teachers and students be supported as they integrate school gardens into their daily learning activities? What garden activities, tools, or resources are needed to support culturally relevant, inclusive learning in your community’s school garden?
Implementation Examples

Most states have schools with school gardens59. State departments of education, departments of agriculture, and university extension programs can actively encourage school gardening; examples include California60, Florida61, and Louisiana62.

At the national level, the School Garden Support Organization Network (SGSO) is a peer-to-peer learning network for schools in all stages of developing gardens63. SGSO offers a curated compilation of equity and inclusion resources for schools working towards more equitable and inclusive gardens64. Community organizations such as DC Greens65 and Gorge Grown Food Network66 also support the efforts of schools and teachers to maximize school gardens, integrate food education into standard curricula, and develop school garden programming.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

KidsGardening - KidsGardening. Lessons to grow by.

Life Lab-Resources - Life Lab Science Program. School garden resources: Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

USDA-Dig in - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Dig in! Standards-based nutrition education from the ground up.

USDA-Garden detective - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). The great garden detective adventure: A standards-based gardening nutrition curriculum for grades 3 and 4.

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

ChangeLab-SGP 2013 - ChangeLab Solutions. Serving school garden produce (SGP) in the cafeteria. 2013.

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural childhood obesity prevention toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; 2014.

Slow Food-SGN - Slow Food USA. The Slow Food USA school garden network (SGN).

ESP-Resources - The Edible Schoolyard Project (ESP). Resources and tools: The Edible Schoolyard Network connects educators around the world to build and share a K-12 edible education curriculum.

Burt-GREEN tool 2016 - Burt KG, Koch PA, Uno C, Contento IR. The GREEN tool (Garden Resources, Education, and Environment Nexus) for well-integrated school gardens. Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at the Program in Nutrition, Teachers College, Columbia University. 2016.

UGA-School garden resources - University of Georgia Extension. School garden resources.

SGSO-Equity in school gardens - School Garden Support Organization Network (SGSO). Strengthening equity and inclusion in garden-based programming.


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

63 SGSO Network - School Garden Support Organization (SGSO) Network.

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