Washburn students during their visit to the White House this April. Many thanks to Al Krause for use of the above photograph. Washburn was one of several inspiring school garden programs chosen by First Lady Michelle Obama to help plant the White House kitchen garden. Read about Washburn's garden in our Success Story below.

The Long-Lasting School Garden

“Sustainable” is a word often heard in school garden vocabulary, and for good reason.  It is a concept that shows up in garden design and a lifestyle that the garden helps teach our kids. It is also something we strive for as educators invested in bringing garden-based learning to our students: how do we create learning gardens that thrive not just this year, but every year? How do we sustain the finances, the enthusiasm, the staff leadership, and the community involvement that make school gardens possible, even if the budget gets cut or a key garden leader leaves the site?
The Wisconsin School Garden Network (and its predecessor, WSGI), has been lucky enough to connect with many successful – and sustainable – school garden programs across the state over the past three years. While each garden looks different, all the schools shared a few key elements that have been essential to sustaining their programs from year to year. Here is our synopsis of the top five:
  1. Choose the right size garden for your school:  If you’ve never grown a bean before, don’t start with an acre.  Always start small, and grow as you are able. Stick with a size that feels attainable.
  2. Get multiple leaders invested in the garden: Create a garden team or committee, even if one “garden champion” kicks things off. Having multiple leaders ensures that the garden won’t fade into the background even if key players leave. If possible, include facilities staff, teachers, community members, food service staff, administrators, and students.
  3. Integrate the garden into many different aspects of your school: In our success story this month, Washburn principal Al Krause describes how all the schools who were chosen to help plant the White House garden this spring had one thing in common: gardens that were integrated throughout their curriculum, school, and community. Plan for the garden to be a part of classroom learning and curriculum, after school programs, summer school, Green and Healthy Schools programs, school board planning and policies, and community events.  
  4. Involve the community: Don’t be afraid to ask for help – many people will be excited to give it! Involve community members as volunteers or donors – especially of in-kind materials. Include as many people as possible. Celebrate together with harvest festivals, family fun nights, or volunteer awards. Share what you are doing through stories and quotes in your school newsletter or local paper, and with thank-you letters to volunteers.
  5. Have a plan for summer: Successful school gardens have a plan for that quintessential school garden question – what do you do during the summer? Answers include weekly volunteers, “adopt-a-garden-plot” programs, summer school or camps, nearby community centers or day cares who don’t have a garden of their own, or planning for quick-growing spring and fall crops such as radishes and lettuce. Read our Summer Maintenance Newsletter - a blast from the WSGI past with lots of great ideas on this topic!


Funding Your School Garden Program
Having adequate resources for a successful school garden program can be daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. A mix of grants, donations, and sales of value-added products may be the perfect equation for a long-lasting school garden program. This brief will offer suggestions to fund a school garden program now, and for years to come!
Striving for Farm to School Sustainability This report is one chapter in a collection called Advancing Farm to School: Lessons from the Field, which features "lessons learned” from fourteen organizations that received Community Transformation Grants in 2011. This chapter features three Wisconsin school districts, and stood out as particularly applicable to gardens as a part of a larger Farm to School program. You can also view and read all six chapters here.
Supporting School Gardens with Master Gardener Volunteers
Volunteers can play an important role in school garden success. Wisconsin is lucky to have a robust Master Gardener Volunteer program run by UW Extension. This publication provides Extension educators and school garden coordinators with tips for creating mutually beneficial relationships between MGVs and school gardens, so that both come away asking for more! Tips are applicable to many other types of volunteers as well!
What's the Buzz About Bees?
In recognition of National Pollinator Week (June 20-26), we wanted to share this article about native pollinators from the Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine. Integrating your vegetable or flower garden with native pollinator studies can be a great way to promote sustainability not just for the environment, but for your garden-classroom connection as well. Get tips on how to attract and study native pollinators in this short article.
Gardens and Wellness Policies Brief  Incorporating school garden language into a school wellness policy increases the sustainability of the school garden. Such language ensures students far into the future will benefit from the garden. This document serves as a guide for effectively integrating school garden language into a school wellness policy. To learn more about the importance of school wellness policies and the garden related activities they support, refer to: Improving Health with School Wellness Policies brief.
Green and Healthy Schools Guide
Gardening integrates perfectly with other Green and Healthy initiatives for schools. This free guide has tips on how to form a green team, start sustainability projects at your school, and navigate the GHS online application. Learn from the successes other schools are having in the nine GHS focus areas and find resources to advance your Green and Healthy Schools efforts. 


Events ... visit our Events page for more

School Garden Support Organization Leadership Institute
Apply by: July 15, 2016 
Institute dates: December 4-9, 2016
Travel and lodging expenses covered

Join 14 other School Garden Support Organizations from across the nation for a 5-day Leadership Institute in Santa Cruz, CA to learn from peer organizations and create an organizational action plan for accomplishing some or all of the following in your region:

  • Training and supporting educators to implement garden-based learning
  • Building and maintaining multiple school gardens
  • Funding school gardens or helping schools to create sustainable funding streams for gardens
  • Facilitating regional networking between school garden educators
  • Evaluating school garden programs

This Leadership Institute is designed to for teams of 2 from 10 School Garden Support Organizations (SGSOs). A SGSO may be a nonprofit organization, university, government agency, foundation, school district, or other entity focused specifically on supporting garden-based learning for multiple schools in their region. 

Travel and lodging expenses for each team will be covered.

Learn More and Apply

No Teacher Left Inside Institute
July 18-21, 2016 - Land o' Lakes, WI

NTLI is an intensive, fun-filled four- or six-day immersion using the environment as a context for interdisciplinary learning. Using the “Wisconsin Walleye Wars” as a sample interdisciplinary experience, participants will learn and apply skills in backwards design, academic standards, and high quality instructional practices to their own curriculum design. Join educators from across Wisconsin and across the country to explore north woods ecosystems, experience best practices, and reflect on your teaching practice. The main institute takes place July 18-21 with an optional two-night exploration into the Sylvania Wilderness July 21-23. A limited number of need-based 50% scholarships are available thanks to support from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board. The main institute is $500 including food and lodging with an additional cost (TBD) for the wilderness excursion. Graduate credit will be available. Hosted by Wisconsin Green Schools Network in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Green Schools National Network, and Conserve School.

Register here by July 10

Learn about other summer professional development opportunities from the Wisconsin DPI
Survey for Madison-area educators: 
What's Next for the GROW Coalition?

The Madison Area GROW (Grass Roots | Outdoor Wonder) Coalition promotes outdoor learning in and around Madison, WI. The GROW Coalition's organizing committee is seeking your input to help determine what programming would best support outdoor learning at your school and around the area. Thank you for taking this survey! It will take approximately 5 minutes to complete.

Click here to complete the GROW Coalition Survey

Cultivating Collective Impact Webinar
July 26, 2:00 pm Central Time

Join Dr. Nicole Ardoin, an assistant professor on a joint appointment with Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and Woods Institute for the Environment, speak about the potential for cross-sector coordination to initiate large scale social change in Environmental Education.  This cost-free webinar is hosted by the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education and the North American Association for Environmental Education.

Webinar Link

Tasty Tidbits ... of wisdom, fun, and information

Garden Joke of the Month

Which vegetable is mostly closely related to people? Thank you to Allison Dopf for finding this joke!

Click here for answer

"Farm to School Works" Fact Sheet

The Farm to School Works Fact Sheet offers a summary of findings from the 2015 Farm to School Census as well as recent research in the field. The results?  Evidence that farm to school initiatives stimulate local and regional economies, improve children’s health and nutrition, and create widespread school and community benefits.

Sheboygan Falls School District is "One in a Melon"

The Sheboygan Falls School District recently received the USDA Office of Community Food System's “One in a Melon” award! Read more here.

Success Story: Washburn School District

Above left: 4K students in the Washburn garden, Above Right: The First Lady harvests with Washburn student Ilya Lalich. Thank you to the USDA and Shawn Linehan for use of this photo.

Washburn School District: The story behind the garden program that took them to the White House

This spring, Washburn Elementary – a small district in northern Wisconsin – was one of a handful of schools called on by Michelle Obama to travel to Washington D.C. and take part in the 8th annual White House Kitchen Garden planting. 
Mrs. Obama selected schools from around the country with one thing in common: inspiring school garden programs. After talking with principal Al Krause, there was no question that Washburn was more than qualified to represent Wisconsin on the national gardening stage.
Washburn Elementary’s 6400 square foot teaching garden is one part of a robust Green and Healthy Schools program that is fully integrated into its curriculum, from 4K through high school. Other elements include a school apple orchard, Farm to School purchasing and use of garden produce in school meals, a school forest with a log cabin, natural play area in the woods behind the school, and, at the high school, a high tunnel, aquaponics lab, and classes focused on agriculture, sustainability, and other Green and Healthy topics.
“It’s hard to separate out all the different pieces, because it’s all integrated, a mindset,” Krause reflected. “But all the Green and Healthy initiatives really started with the garden.”
Washburn’s garden began almost a decade ago, and has survived multiple changes in school administration and national education policy.  The garden’s staying power, according to Krause, is due to its integration into every part of the school, and broad support from teachers, the school board, and the surrounding community.
Each spring, teachers and students from all grade levels at Washburn participate in the planting of the garden, and in the fall, they bring in the harvest. Summer school students and teachers are involved in caring for the garden from June through August, in addition to volunteers from the community.  Two AmeriCorps Farm to School service members – one focused on local food procurement and the other on nutrition education – help support the garden and its connection to the classrooms. The district also employs a Green and Healthy Coordinator, who helps teachers integrate the garden and other Green and Healthy goals into their teaching, just like math goals.
“The more we incorporate the garden into different parts of the school and classroom, the harder it will be for it go away,” Krause said.  “So we put it into our curriculum, just like any other subject.”  Washburn’s food service is also involved in the garden process, helping advise teachers and students on what crops to plant, based on what can be used in the cafeteria.
The garden and other Green and Healthy goals are also a part of the district’s annual budgeting and planning process, including plans for how to sustain the program even if AmeriCorps members are no longer available.
“I may be biased because I am working in administration,” Krause said, “but really programs come and go all the time in education. Our district has made a financial commitment to continuing the program even when there are cuts, because they see it is as so valuable. It is a part of what we do and who we are.”
The garden program, Krause said, “has become a reflection of what our community values and is proud of. We are never afraid to ask for help, and have learned how much people really want to give.”  The community’s response has been tremendous, from summer volunteers to local tax dollars that support the garden, to donations of materials from businesses and community members.
Washburn has seen the results of the garden in the attitudes of their kids. ”We see it in the lunch line, the kids are choosing the vegetables, and making that part of their lifestyle,” Krause said.
Although their visit to the White House was the trip of a lifetime, students seemed at home in the garden. As his students intermingled with other young gardeners, Krause realized that even though each school came from a different setting – from inner-city schools with gardens on rooftops to rural schools with plenty of land like Washburn – but they all had one thing in common: integrating the garden throughout the curriculum, school, and community. “It was inspiring to see that that can happen anywhere,” Krause said.  
The gardens at Washburn Elementary and Washburn High School are always open to visitors who want to walk, talk, and learn more, Krause said. We certainly hope to make a visit soon!


Read other Wisconsin school garden success stories

Above center: 4K students help plant the Washburn garden. Above left: Washburn students pose in the White House with Deborah Kane (Director, USDA Office of Community Food Systems) Above right: Washburn student Sophia Borchers gets a hug from Mrs. Obama. Washburn students told the First Lady about their gardening experiences during their visit to the White House. Thank you to Al Krause for this photo.

Share your garden story #wischoolgardens

Every garden is ripe with stories.  Maybe it is one about the day the first shovel-full of soil was turned over and the garden was underway.  Or about that time a brave rabbit dared to sample lettuce amidst a class of kindergartners partaking in a garden lesson. Each story has the potential to connect others with your garden program. Send us your story idea, or read our garden storytelling brief for tips on collecting and sharing thestories that make your garden program so special.  

Getting Started with School Gardens

Just starting a school garden? We're here to help. Check out these free resources, developed right in Wisconsin. Or, send us an email with your questions! 

Got Dirt? Garden Toolkit: Simple, step-by-step guide for starting a school garden
Got Veggies? Nutrition Education Curriculum: Aligned with state standards
Cultivating Childhood Wellness through Gardening Free online training with chapters on planning, planting, growing, and harvesting a garden with kids. Approved for continuing education hours for child care providers (1.5 hours of Registry credit).

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