The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory

Research on Impacts of Garden Curriculum in Schools
July 9, 2009, 3:08 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


Dillard Academy's two-acre garden

Dillard Academy's two-acre garden



Aluminum slides, swing sets, basketball hoops, squares of hopscotch and a rambling set of monkey bars. When you think about what might lie on the grounds of a school, these are probably some playthings that come to mind. But these days, a school garden can be added to the top of the list.  Gardens in schools are cropping up all over the nation with teachers, parents and volunteers working to support them. They are not just gardens with pretty flowers either, but are instead working gardens that supply actual food – vegetables such as tomatoes, peas, eggplant, herbs, chard, kale, corn, and more. Though a garden like this requires constant work, schools are finding that kids are not only up for the work, but enjoy it. Some schools I’ve visited are going beyond just gardens as well. Seawell Elementary in Carrboro has a “critter corner” which is the happy home of chickens, goats and ducks. Lakewood Elementary in Durham planted ten different varieties of heirloom apple trees. But how are school gardens actually affecting children? Does including garden work in school curriculum impact children’s knowledge of food? What about their willingness to try new foods? And perhaps most importantly, is it changing the way they eat at home?

Dillard AcademyYesterday, Molly Demarco, Post Doctorial Fellow at UNC Chapel Hill, and I traveled to the Dillard Academy CASTLES program to collect data for The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project in hopes of answering these questions. Dillard Academy is a charter school in Goldsboro, NC, where some children are involved in a summer camp program with a curriculum that involves a two-acre garden. Not only do children work in the garden, but they are also able to sell their goods at a local farmer’s market. 

fruit and veggie poster

This aim of the UNC Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project seeks to look at the impact of school gardens in how children eat and think about food. After extensive research was conducted, including help from the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, a survey was compiled that tests people’s knowledge of fruits and vegetables, their willingness to try new foods, and their eating behavior. According to Dr. Alice Ammerman, there are two surveys, one for adults and one for children, “We’re very interested in comparing and contrasting the attitudes of different age groups towards fruits and vegetables and how those mindsets change with exposure to gardening and the opportunities that are created from implementing a school curriculum based on growing produce.”

garden t-shirtsYesterday was the first day of the program, and as part of the Gillings Sustainable Agriculture team with Molly DeMarco, I was able to see firsthand how the survey was administered to children as a pretest of their knowledge before they began working in the garden. Molly’s research centers on food insecurity, access to healthy foods, and local food systems. At the end of the summer program in August, kids will be given the same survey to see if any changes in their thinking, knowledge and behavior involving food have occurred.

As obesity rates in children increase dramatically, it is vital to see if school garden curriculum can serve as one part in the answer to helping children develop healthier eating habits. The data could also help increase public awareness of the importance of garden curriculum. Please leave a comment if you work with children in gardens and  have noticed any way in which garden work impacts them.


Kids smile after they complete the survey

Kids smile after they complete the survey


1 Comment so far
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Nice blog with a very nice title “Research on Impacts of Garden Curriculum in Schools” ENjoyed going your blog as I love garden art. Cheers 🙂

Comment by beth

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