SG Summit Table Topic

School Gardens Grow More Than Just Food

Oregon’s children are some of the hungriest children in the nation and have been last few years. Oregon also has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country; we rank 49th. Childhood obesity is at a perilous rate nationwide. Do we continue to do the same things that don’t work or do we turn to better solutions?

The Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Summit, that took place January 29–30, in Salem offered a better solution. Organized by Willamette Farm and Food Coalition (Eugene) and Upstream Public Health (Portland), this was the second annual event. Among the 300 attendees, two of our Slow Food Portland steering committee members attended.

Food Corps in song

FoodCorps Oregon service members leading the audience in a song about plant parts.

Michelle Ratcliffe, PhD, farm-to-School specialist, spoke to the audience the first day. Oregon is ahead of the game when it comes to schools buying local foods and in the number of school gardens. Last year, the USDA’s Farm to School census, found Oregon school districts devote 24 percent of their food budgets to buying local food, the highest in the country. Additionally, with close to 600 school gardens—close to half of our schools—we are leading the way in edible education.

According to keynote speaker Dilafruz Williams, professor of educational leadership and policy at Portland State University, her research shows that learning gardens do many positive things. In a school garden, through touching, tasting and interacting in the garden, students learn healthy eating habits, food literacy and develop environmental empathy. Garden education also enhances curiosity, wonder, collaboration and movement. Students learn how to compost and plan a garden, and engage in science, math and reading working in a garden. Importantly, when kids grow vegetables at school, they get to explore new senses. Studies have also shown that attendance is up on school garden days. Oregon’s FoodCorps service members and many others are combatting childhood obesity through garden education.

Insect making

Participants at a breakout group learn to use various herbs, fruits and vegetables to create bugs as a tool to teach kids about the insects in the garden.

On a national scale, Slow Food is involved in school gardens and edible education because it believes every child deserves to grow up knowing where food comes from, how to grow, cook and share it, and how to be healthy. Andy Nowak, director of the school garden program at Slow Food USA, gave several talks at the Summit, including one about fundraising for school garden programs. He shared a number of ideas used by chapters around the country. Slow Food Portland as been involved in the school garden movement in the past, but doesn’t currently play a targeted role. It depends on our all-volunteer capacity and goals for each year. However, we’d love to hear from you if you’d like Slow Food Portland to play a bigger role in edible education.

Do you want to be involved? Share your ideas!

Special thanks to Djamilla Moore, author of Radicle Learning, and Emily Ritchie for these photos.


This post was contributed by Emily Ritchie, who recently completed three years working for FoodCorps, a national AmeriCorps program, that supports emerging leaders teaching kids, building school gardens and connecting farm and school. Emily is passionate about simple, fresh food for all, and sparking interest in healthy eating in the next generation. In her position as Oregon’s program manager at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, she catalyzed Boat to School, bringing Oregon seafood into school lunches while connecting rural fishers to urban areas. She also serves on the steering committee for Slow Food Portland.

Thanks for sharing