In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
March, 2004
Regional Report

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Giant vegetables capture children's imagination, leading them on a discovery of plant and soil relationships.

The Power of Gardens as Learning Environments

Youth gardening programs are guiding our children back to the earth. Ask many of today's kids where food comes from and the likely reply will be "a grocery store" or "McDonald's." They don't make a connection between French fries and a root vegetable that's dug from the ground.

Ties between gardening and nutrition are crucial now as children's obesity rates skyrocket. Lucy Bradley, University of Arizona urban horticultural agent in Phoenix, relates a story that vividly demonstrated to her the impact gardening can have on children's eating habits.

At a school fair, each classroom had a booth with items for sale. One group decided to sell lettuce they had grown in the school garden. "I thought it would be heart rending," she recalls. "What kid would want to buy lettuce?" To her surprise, the students lined up along the corridor for a chance to buy vegetables they had sown and tended. Bradley now realizes that example wasn't a fluke. "Educators are relating similar stories over and over," she says. "What kids grow, they will eat."

The Garden as Teacher
Obvious curriculum concepts can be taught in a garden, such as using a yardstick to measure the growth of corn, or testing hypotheses to determine what factors enhance seedling growth. Teachers are also discovering that a garden is an amazing place for children to grasp concepts that are not easily taught --- such as responsibility and delayed gratification -- as kids sow seeds, tend the plants, and anticipate harvest.

There's more than anecdotal evidence to support the value of youth gardening. A study of 40 California schools that integrated gardening and the environment into the entire curriculum shows impressive results. A majority of students scored better in reading, writing, and math than children in traditional programs. Students also increased critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which are so important in today's world economy. Teachers reported that students displayed better interpersonal skills and greater civility towards others.

Why not take time out from your busy schedule to plant a garden with a child in your life? It can be as simple as a container filled with quick-growing Easter Egg radishes, sweet-smelling chocolate mint, or soft and fuzzy lamb's ears. Share the power of gardening!


Care to share your gardening thoughts, insights, triumphs, or disappointments with your fellow gardening enthusiasts? Join the lively discussions on our FaceBook page and receive free daily tips!

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