Urban Harvest Celebrates 15 Years of Youth Education in School Gardens!

This fall Urban Harvest is celebrating 15 years of teaching in school gardens! That’s a decade and a half of outdoor play and learning, fresh fruits and vegetables, and abundant and productive greenspaces. With your continued support, we are adapting to meet the needs of students and educators in the Houston area and beyond by teaching children in school, after school, and by training educators through accredited professional development workshops. Celebrate this important milestone with us by digging in at one of our Dig It Days this fall held at school gardens across Houston. See our Events page for more info.

Since 2003 Urban Harvest has provided hands-on garden education for Houston area students, turning school gardens into Outdoor Classrooms where children get to experience in the garden what they learn in the classroom. This program started with just three schools, Hartsfield Elementary, Peck Elementary, and MacArthur Elementary (now combined with Peck) and 180 students, and has since grown to reach over 50 schools in the past 15 years, teaching approximately 5,000 students annually. Along the way we saw school gardens revolutionize the way Houston area students think about their education, their environment and their food. When school gardens are aligned with classroom curriculum, they enhance a child’s learning of core subjects, like science, math, and language arts because students learn through hands-on activities, known as experiential learning. In the garden children watch as seedlings become plants, flowers and fruit and as a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Numerous studies have also shown that children will try new fruits and vegetables, eat healthier and are more active when in school garden programs.

Lakeisha Ogbor is a science teacher at Peck Elementary and uses the garden in her teaching. Through their active production of fruits and vegetables, the students learn to really care about something. According to Ogbor:

Most of them have never seen how plants and fruits and vegetables actually start out from seeds and grow. So they get to plant the seed, see their harvest and actually experience the cycles that it goes through. And then we can take that back into the classroom so that they can see life cycles, they can see actual ecosystems and how the plants and animals interact.

Urban Harvest garden educators use garden activities to make real-life topics such as science, ecology and healthy eating directly relevant to choices that students make daily. Cheryl Jones is the Magnet Coordinator at Gregory Lincoln Education Center. She sees that the garden program is creating kids who will choose wisely what they eat: “It doesn’t come from a grocery store, it’s not in a package, it’s not from a convenience store. It came from somebody putting a lot of love, attention and care into raising this product…We are creating that culture. The garden means a lot to us. It means a lot to the community, as well as to the kids and the school.”

Over the years, Urban Harvest has created innovative programming to complement its school gardens, including our annual Kids Market Day and the Edible Academy workshop. Every spring, students from school gardens throughout the city are invited to sell their produce and more at the Kids Market Day held at Gregory-Lincoln Education Center. This farmers market, run entirely by kids, provides students with a hands-on experience of running a business. Students are responsible for harvesting their produce, setting the prices, creating marketing materials and handling transactions with buyers. All proceeds from the market sales are sown back into the school gardens and culinary programs to promote experiential learning opportunities for students.  

Responding to the growing needs and interest in school garden education, Urban Harvest launched the Edible Academy. This accredited professional development workshop is held at Gregory Lincoln Education Center for three days during the month of June. Here, educators learn how to use their school garden as an outdoor classroom. One recent attendee shared her interest in edible education and why she signed up for the academy this year: “Everybody eats. We can all bring something (literally and metaphorically) to the table, and shared experiences are what build communities.” To date, more than 250 educators have participated in the Edible Academy from throughout the Gulf Coast region, including as far away as Louisiana!

Thank you again to our donors, volunteers, and supporters who make school gardens, youth education, and professional development possible here in Houston and beyond. Your support enables us to create innovative programing like school gardens, Dig It Day volunteer events, the Kids Market, and the Edible Academy. Here’s to the next 15 years of garden education in schools!