Notable Edibles Fall 2013 Issue

New Nutrition Curriculum Turns Gardens into Classrooms

By Nathan Larson and Amy Meinen 0

Have you ever watched a child plant a seed in the ground? It’s an amazing event to witness. In the context of garden-based education, this moment marks the beginning of a meaningful relationship between a child and a plant. In the past decade we have discovered that the garden is not only a perfect learning environment for scientific concepts such as photosynthesis and decomposition, it’s also a perfect environment for nutrition education. When given a hands-on opportunity to grow and prepare food in the garden, youth forge a deeply personal relationship with the food that sustains them.

Growing evidence demonstrates that nutrition education used in conjunction with a youth garden positively impacts child and adolescent nutrition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified daily physical activity and increased fruit and vegetable consumption as two of the six most important strategies for preventing obesity. Thus, growing and eating food in the garden is a good place to start cultivating healthy eating and physical activity habits.

Gardens Turned Classrooms

In 2005, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (WDHS) and collaborating partners launched the Got Dirt? Garden Initiative to increase the number of school and community youth gardens in Wisconsin as a means for increasing access to, and consumption of, fruits and vegetables. A significant part of the initiative included the Got Dirt? Toolkit, a step-bystep guide for starting a youth garden.

Once the garden is built, how do you get kids into it? To connect classrooms with their youth gardens, WDHS’s Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Program, Community GroundWorks and additional partners teamed up to develop the Got Veggies?: Garden-Based Nutrition Education Curriculum as a resource for school, after school and early childhood teachers. The same team also produced Cultivating Childhood Wellness through Gardening, an online web training that provides educators with information about designing a school garden, growing food with kids and much more.

Got Dirt?, Got Veggies?, and the online web training are all FREE resources available to educators at this shortlink: Not an educator? Share this with your child’s teacher!

What ’s Inside? 

Got Veggies? features seven lesson plans correlated to Wisconsin Model Academic Standards for Nutrition, Health, Science and other related subjects. It includes garden-based activities including journaling, themes gardens, and garden art. The Cooking & Eating in the Garden section provides fun recipes and tips from the Culinary Arts Outdoor Classroom at the Troy Kids’ Garden. These lessons and activities can stand alone or be used in conjunction with each other. Whether you have just a few minutes to spend with students in the garden or an entire lesson period, this curriculum is a great way to nurture students’ interest in growing and eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

Wisc. School Garden Initiative

Community GroundWorks, a national leader in the school garden movement, recently received funding from the Wisconsin Partnership Program of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health to launch the Wisconsin School Garden Initiative. Through the initiative, Community GroundWorks will continue growing the movement through trainings, technical assistance and garden-based education resources like Got Veggies?. To join the Wisconsin School Garden Network or to learn more about the resources mentioned here, visit

Nathan Larson and Amy Meinen NATHAN LARSON has worked as a garden educator since 1999. He is the education director at Community GroundWorks and an honorary research fellow in the Environmental Design Lab at UW-Madison. Nathan directs the Wisconsin School Garden Initiative as well as urban farm and garden education programs for pre-K-12 students. He provides professional development for schoolteachers, AmeriCorps members, master gardeners and community educators. Nathan writes garden-based curricula, and he co-authored Got Veggies? and Cultivating Childhood Wellness through Gardening.

AMY MEINEN , MPH, RD, CD, is a registered dietitian with training in public health and has over 12 years of experience working on preventing obesity at the state and local level. She most recently worked for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Program as a state nutrition coordinator. Amy is now the director of the Wisconsin Obesity Prevention Network, which is housed at the UW-Madison Collaborative Center for Health Equity. She is responsible for aligning partners, efforts and resources to more effectively address obesity in Wisconsin.

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