Finding inspiration in successful public school gardens

By Christal Boutte

Warning: this video of the 24th St Elementary School in Los Angeles might make you cry, because all elementary schools should be like this.

Students are naturally curious in a garden. They want to work together, in order to eat, and feed their friends and frenemies. But public school requirements can hinder students from accessing the garden as much as they and their teachers and garden facilitators would like.

Some public school gardens have overcome these obstacles to create mini-paradises, however.

A few tenacious people can start the process of integrating a garden into many parts of a public school. Successful gardens usually produce healthy food for the students and school community, provide experiential learning opportunities in many subjects, lead to many forms of community involvement and collaboration, improve test scores in almost all subjects, and sometimes generate money for the school.

Many committed people are involved in every truly successful school garden. These people will not allow the garden to be abandoned or neglected. It gives them too much not to give back.

By the same token, a thriving school garden is within reach for any school community. Click on the links below for hope and inspiration!

For 11 years I attended Keene Central School, a rural K-12 public school in upstate New York. If you went to a public school in the U.S., you can probably guess what they served in the KCS cafeteria:  cheap, greasy, sugary foods, refined carbs, American cheese, processed meats, some insipid vegetables, canned peaches, etc. We didn’t have a school garden.

Today, things are quite different. The KCS cafeteria is managed by Julie Holbrook, an unstoppable worker for nutrition and sustainable local food systems. Julie sources some cafeteria food from the government, but mostly she gets food from local farms, and she never misses an opportunity to use food from the school’s own garden! Now even teachers at KCS buy school lunch. Bunny Goodwin is the KCS Garden Coordinator, where she runs an after-school garden program.

The nutrient-dense, locally sourced food movement that Julie has helped grow so successfully is spreading throughout the North Country in upstate NY (in zone 4!).

California has better school gardens than Washington State, and we’ve got to catch up.

The Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkely, Calif., is the often cited holy grail of U.S. school gardens. Visit to go down the wormhole and expand your vision of what public schools can be (well, in USDA hardiness zone 10).

Alice Waters was the catalyst that propelled the Edible Schoolyard into existence. She didn’t have much capital, or any formal training when she started either her own restaurant or the Edible Schoolyard.

The June Jordan School for Equity garden in San Fransisco might benefit from better PR, but otherwise they are great.

Some kids in California are even making money from their school garden.


The Whitman Middle School garden in Seattle, where I volunteer, is still new, but we are doing everything we can to make it an intrinsic, permanent part of the school. We are currently raising funds to bring us closer to this vision. Please donate if you want the money to go to paying teachers to integrate outdoor learning into what they teach! Teachers are underpaid.

Click here to support the Whitman Middle School Garden

Christal Boutte is an environmental activist and school garden evangelist living in Seattle. She can be reached by email at