School fruit & vegetable gardens

School gardens allow 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.  

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased willingness to try fruits & vegetables

  • Increased fruit & vegetable consumption

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved nutrition

  • Reduced obesity rates

  • Increased physical activity

  • Improved health-related knowledge

  • Enhanced academic instruction

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that school gardens modestly increase participating children’s vegetable consumption and willingness to try new vegetables (Savoie-Roskos 2017*, Davis 2015b, AHA-Mozaffarian 2012Langellotto 2012*Scherr 2013Ratcliffe 2011*Parmer 2009*McAleese 2007*Rauzon 2010). Establishing school gardens is also a recommended strategy to promote healthy eating, improve nutrition, and reduce obesity (CDC-School-based obesity preventionCDC MMWR-School health guidelines 2011CDC-Fruits and vegetables 2011IOM-Government obesity prevention 2009*). Additional evidence is needed to determine long-term effects (Savoie-Roskos 2017*, Davis 2015b). 

Gardening increases vegetable consumption among children, perhaps due to increased access to vegetables and decreased reluctance to try new foods (Langellotto 2012*Scherr 2013McAleese 2007*Rauzon 2010Ratcliffe 2011*Parmer 2009*). Garden-based nutrition intervention programs have also been shown to increase health-related knowledge, willingness to taste, and preference for fruits and vegetables (Kararo 2016*, Cotugna 2012*Robinson-OBrien 2009*Blair 2009*Ozer 2007*Koch 2006Morris 2001Morris 2002*Morgan 2010Gatto 2012*Jaenke 2012*Dirks 2005). School garden participation can also increase elementary school children’s moderate and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) during the school day (Wells 2014*). A New Zealand-based study associates school gardens with lower BMI and reduced prevalence of overweight among children (Utter 2016*).

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 2006Poston 2005). 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 alone (Evans 2012a*, Jones 2015*). A UK-based study suggests that high intensity school garden interventions may be needed to significantly increase fruit and vegetable consumption (Christian 2014), and that teachers may be better able to change students’ attitudes towards eating fruits and vegetables than external gardening specialists (Hutchinson 2015*). 

School gardens can enhance academic instruction (Berezowitz 2015*, Graham 2005a*Graham 2005*) at the middle and possibly elementary school level (Klemmer 2005Pigg 2006). School gardens are associated with higher test scores among fifth graders (Ray 2016), as well as increased science knowledge among elementary students (Wells 2015*). More intensive garden interventions are associated with greater knowledge gains (Wells 2015*).

Research suggests that establishing, integrating, and sustaining successful school gardens over time requires ongoing attention to the physical garden, student experience, school community, as well as dedicated resources and support (Burt 2017*).  

School gardens appear to be more prevalent in urban districts than rural ones, and in the western US than in other regions. School gardens are less prevalent in schools with high proportions of students from families with lower incomes than schools in more affluent areas. School gardens are also more common in schools with farm to school programs (Turner 2016*). 

State laws that support school gardens are associated with the use of garden produce in school nutrition programs (Turner 2017*). 

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Most states have schools with school gardens (NASBE-Competitive State departments of education, departments of agriculture, and university extension programs can actively encourage school gardening; examples include California (CDE-Gardens), Florida (FL DACS-Gardens), South Carolina (SCDA-SC F2I), and Louisiana (LSU-Ag Center). 

Community organizations such as DC Greens (DC Greens-School support) and Gorge Grown Food Network (GGFN-SGN) also support the efforts of schools and teachers to maximize school gardens, integrate food education into standard curricula, and develop school garden programming.

Surveys suggest that approximately 30% of elementary schools have school gardens as of 2014 (Turner 2016*).

Implementation Resources - KidsGardening. Helping young minds grow.

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.

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

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

USDA-Garden detective - US 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 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.

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.

HOST-Healthy eating - Healthy Out-of-School Time (HOST) Coalition. Resources: Healthy eating.

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.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Savoie-Roskos 2017* - Savoie-Roskos MR, Wengreen H, Durward C. Increasing fruit and vegetable intake among children and youth through gardening-based interventions: A systematic review. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Davis 2015b - Davis JN, Spaniol MR, Somerset S. Sustenance and sustainability: Maximizing the impact of school gardens on health outcomes. Public Health Nutrition. 2015;18(13):2358-2367.

AHA-Mozaffarian 2012 - Mozaffarian D, Afshin A, Benowitz NL, et al. Population approaches to improve diet, physical activity, and smoking habits: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA). Circulation. 2012;126(12):1514–63.

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.

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.

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.

Rauzon 2010 - Rauzon S, Wang M, Studer N, et al. An evaluation of the school lunch initiative final report: Changing students' knowledge, attitudes and behavior in relation to food. University of California Berkeley: Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health; 2010.

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 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.

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.

IOM-Government obesity prevention 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.

Kararo 2016* - Kararo MJ, Orvis KS, Knobloch NA. Eat Your Way to Better Health: Evaluating a garden-based nutrition program for youth. HortTechnology. 2016;26(5):663-668.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Wells 2014* - Wells NM, Myers BM, Henderson CR. School gardens and physical activity: A randomized controlled trial of low-income elementary schools. Preventive Medicine. 2014;69:S27-S33.

Utter 2016* - Utter J, Denny S, Dyson B. School gardens and adolescent nutrition and BMI: Results from a national, multilevel study. Preventive Medicine. 2016;83:1-4.

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.

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.

Jones 2015* - Jones SJ, Childers C, Weaver AT, Ball J. SC farm-to-school programs encourages children to consume vegetables. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2015;10(4):511-525.

Christian 2014 - Christian MS, Evans CEL, Nykjaer C, Hancock N, Cade JE. Evaluation of the impact of a school gardening intervention on children’s fruit and vegetable intake: A randomised controlled trial. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2014;11(1):99.

Hutchinson 2015* - Hutchinson J, Christian MS, Evans CEL, Nykjaer C, Hancock N, Cade JE. Evaluation of the impact of school gardening interventions on children’s knowledge of and attitudes towards fruit and vegetables: A cluster randomised controlled trial. Appetite. 2015;91:405-414.

Berezowitz 2015* - Berezowitz CK, Bontrager Yoder AB, Schoeller DA. School gardens enhance academic performance and dietary outcomes in children. Journal of School Health. 2015;85(8):508-518.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ray 2016 - Ray R, Fisher DR, Fisher-Maltese C. School gardens in the city: Does environmental equity help close the achievement gap? Du Bois Review. 2016;13(2):379-395.

Wells 2015* - Wells NM, Myers BM, Todd LE, et al. The effects of school gardens on children’s science knowledge: A randomized controlled trial of low-income elementary schools. International Journal of Science Education. 2015;37(17):2858-2878.

Burt 2017* - Burt KG, Koch P, Contento I. Development of the GREEN (Garden Resources, Education, and Environment Nexus) Tool: An evidence-based model for school garden integration. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2017;117(10):1517-1527.e4.

Turner 2016* - Turner L, Eliason M, Sandoval A, Chaloupka FJ. Increasing prevalence of US elementary school gardens, but disparities reduce opportunities for disadvantaged students. Journal of School Health. 2016;86(12):906-912.

Turner 2017* - Turner L, Leider J, Piekarz E, et al. Facilitating fresh: State laws supporting school gardens are associated with use of garden-grown produce in school nutrition services programs. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2017;49(6):481-489.e1.

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. - KidsGardening. Helping young minds grow.

CDE-Gardens - California Department of Education (CDE). Nutrition to grow on: curriculum for grades 4-6 that directly links school gardens and nutrition education.

FL DACS-Gardens - Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FL DACS). School gardens.

SCDA-SC F2I - South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA), South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. South Carolina farm to institution (SC F2I): Encouraging children to garden.

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

DC Greens-School support - DC Greens. School support.

GGFN-SGN - Gorge Grown Food Network (GGFN). School garden network (SGN): Gorge Grown supports educators and students through the Columbia Gorge School Garden Network.

Turner 2016* - Turner L, Eliason M, Sandoval A, Chaloupka FJ. Increasing prevalence of US elementary school gardens, but disparities reduce opportunities for disadvantaged students. Journal of School Health. 2016;86(12):906-912.

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