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 willingness to try fruits & vegetables

  • 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 modestly increase participating children’s vegetable consumption and willingness to try new vegetables1, 2, 3456789. Establishing school gardens is also a recommended strategy to promote healthy eating, improve nutrition, and reduce obesity10111213. Additional evidence is needed to determine long-term effects1, 2

Gardening increases vegetable consumption among children, perhaps due to increased access to vegetables and decreased reluctance to try new foods458967. Garden-based nutrition intervention programs have also been shown to increase health-related knowledge, willingness to taste, and preference for fruits and vegetables14, 1516171819202122232425. School garden participation can also increase elementary school children’s moderate and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) during the school day26. A New Zealand-based study associates school gardens with lower BMI and reduced prevalence of overweight among children27.

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 programs2829. 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 alone30, 31. A UK-based study suggests that high intensity school garden interventions may be needed to significantly increase fruit and vegetable consumption32, and that teachers may be better able to change students’ attitudes towards eating fruits and vegetables than external gardening specialists33

School gardens can enhance academic instruction34, 3536 at the middle and possibly elementary school level3738. School gardens are associated with higher test scores among fifth graders39, as well as increased science knowledge among elementary students40. More intensive garden interventions are associated with greater knowledge gains40.

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 support41.  

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 schools in more affluent areas. School gardens are also more common in schools with farm to school programs42

State laws that support school gardens are associated with the use of garden produce in school nutrition programs43. 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 food44, 4546, 47. 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 products44

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

Most states have schools with school gardens48. State departments of education, departments of agriculture, and university extension programs can actively encourage school gardening; examples include California49, Florida50, and Louisiana51

Community organizations such as DC Greens52 and Gorge Grown Food Network53 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 201442.

Implementation Resources

KidsGardening - KidsGardening. Lessons to grow by. Burlington, VT.

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 - 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 (WI 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.

ISU-Food and sustainability resources - Iowa State University (ISU), Sustainable Food Processing Alliance. Online resources for food and sustainability.


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1 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.

2 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.

3 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):1514-1563.

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

5 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.

6 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.

7 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.

8 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.

9 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.

10 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).

11 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.

12 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.

13 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.

14 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.

15 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.

16 Robinson-O’Brien 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.

17 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.

18 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.

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.

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

21 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.

22 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.

23 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.

24 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.

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

26 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.

27 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.

28 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.

29 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.

30 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.

31 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.

32 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.

33 Hutchinson 2015 - Hutchinson J, Christian MS, Evans CEL, et al. 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.

34 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.

35 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.

36 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.

37 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.

38 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.

39 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.

40 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.

41 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.

42 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.

43 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.

44 Ringling 2020 - Ringling KM, Marquart LF. Intersection of diet, health, and environment: Land grant universities’ role in creating platforms for sustainable food systems. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. 2020;4(70).

45 SSSA-McIvor 2017 - McIvor K. Soils in the city: Community gardens. Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). 2017.

46 Hamerschlag 2017 - Hamerschlag K, Kraus-Polk J. Shrinking the carbon and water footprint of school food: A recipe for combating climate change. A pilot analysis of Oakland Unified School District's food programs. Friends of the Earth; February 2017.

47 CCAFS-Campbell 2012 - Campbell B. Is eating local good for the climate? Thinking beyond food miles. Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), CGIAR Research Programs. 2012.

48 KidsGardening - KidsGardening. Lessons to grow by. Burlington, VT.

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

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

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

52 DC Greens-School support - DC Greens. School support. Washington, DC.

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

Date Last Updated