No time to lose  

The garden is a place where the pace of life can slow down - where we can encourage kids to take their time and really look at something. Our role as educators is often to open the door (sometimes literally!) for students to discover any number of wonders waiting for them in, around, and underneath the plants. Yet our time for facilitating these experiences can often be limited - sometimes to a very short window. Whether you have just a few minutes to step outside your classroom, or need a way to engage kids who finish other activities early, having a few garden activities in your "back pocket" will certainly pay off! 

To get us started, we asked a group of experienced garden educators, "What would you do with a group of kids in the garden if you had just five minutes?" 
"I would pick and eat something tasty!" - Gabrielle Hinahara

"Roll over a rock or decomposing wood and investigate how alive the soil is!! Look for insects, fungi, and soil in various states of decomposition. Fill your hands and breathe in that life!!" -Julie P.

"Have everyone close their eyes and be silent and mindful for one minute. Then, have them share things they sensed: smells, sounds, feelings etc." -Erin Moriearty

"Make a 'hand salad' out of different herbs and greens kids can pick." -Leia Young

"Get a bunch of paint sample swatches from the hardware store, give a different color swatch to each child, and tell them to find something in the garden environment that matches the color of their paint swatch as closely as possible!" -Elin A.

Share your back pocket activities! #fiveminutesinthegarden
Are you one of the more than 800 people that participated in a Wisconsin School Garden Initiative training during the last three years?  If so, please consider completing this short survey. Your responses will help us determine how to best support other Wisconsin educators looking to implement and sustain gardens and garden-based education.  Respondents can enter to win a garden gift basket at the end of the survey.


WSGI's Favorite Garden Lessons and Activities Brief
All educators know the importance of having a selection of lessons and activities at their fingertips. Quick access to lessons that teach key concepts, engage various group sizes, and enthrall students of diverse ages are always in demand. Let this brief be your reference for garden activities and lessons that you will use again and again. From garden necklaces to seed art, it's all right here!
Webinar: How to Build a Hydroponic System for your Lunchroom
On March 9th, 2016, 2:00 to 3:00 pm (CST), seventh-grade students from Palouse Prairie Charter School (PPCS) in Idaho are hosting a webinar entitled Fresh From The School: How To Build a Hydroponic System for Your Lunch Program. Participate in this webinar to learn how to build a hydroponic system as affordably as possible and incorporate the produce grown by students into your school’s lunches. 
Back Pocket Activities for your Back Pocket
This out-in-the-garden, on-your-feet reference lists garden activities that can be done either moving around the garden or in a learning circle nearby. Enough text to spark ideas, yet short enough to read on the go. Can be folded in half to make a two-sided mini-guide that literally fits into your back pocket!
School Garden Fundraising Webinars from Slow Food USA
Each month, Slow Food USA puts out a webinar for their National School Garden Program that is free and open to the public. Check out the February webinar to learn about Slow Food's new partnership with Chipotle, and how the restaurant is offering financial support to school gardens. The November 2015 webinar is all about Fundraising, with plenty of ideas to get you started!
LifeLab Back Pocket Activity Videos
This YouTube channel from LifeLab has a dozen different videos (1-4 minutes each) demonstrating quick and easy garden activities you can pull out of your back pocket almost any time. Also includes videos of more extensive garden lessons, songs, and the benefits of garden-based education. (Scan right to see additional videos in each section.)
Register for National EE Week - Gain Eligibility for Greening STEM Grant!
National Environmental Education Week is April 17-23! Register your event and you will become eligible for NEEF's new Greening STEM Integration Grant - a total of $12,000 in funding for projects that support the integration of Greening STEM into current or new programming or curriculum. Register for EE Week. 

Events ... visit our Events page for more

School Garden Support Organizations, Unite! A Pre-Conference Gathering
June 2, 8:30am-12:00pm - Madison, WI

At no other time in the school garden movement have there been so many support organizations for school garden development. Across the nation foundations, non-profit, school district, state, and university programs are working to institutionalize school gardens in their regions. Join school garden support organizations from across the nation to discuss strategies for building and maintaining multiple gardens, creating sustainable funding streams, program assessment and evaluation, school integration, and training school garden educators. 

This event takes place just before the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Madison. Please register seperately.  Breakfast and snacks will be provided.

Register here


Registration is Open for the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference!
June 2-4, 2016 - Madison, WI

The 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference is coming to Wisconsin in June! This event is the only national gathering of stakeholders from across the farm to cafeteria movement. Early bird registration is open now, including pre-conference short courses and field trips. Join more than 1,500 attendees in this great national event. The 2014 conference sold out before the registration deadline, so don't wait! 

Register here - Early bird prices end March 31
Farm to Early Care and Education Call
March 9, 1:00-2:00pm

Join us in our first-ever WI Farm to ECE call.  This presentation is open to anyone with an interest in bringing healthy, local food to Wisconsin's youngest eaters.  View the presentation here, join the conversation at 1-888-291-0312 with participant code 9472698, or do both!  Questions?  Contact Beth Hanna at  


Present at the NAAEE Conference!
Presenter applications due March 31.
Conference takes place October 19-22 in Madison, WI

Madison, Wisconsin has been chosen as the location for the 2016 North American Association for Environmental Education Conference! The conference theme is "From Inspiration to Impact" and presentations can include traditional workshops, panel discussions, hands-on presentations, half-day workshops, round table talks, ten-minute "Bright Spot" talks, or posters. Share your knowledge of EE with this national audience!  


Growing Minds Course for Educators July 25-29, 2016 - Madison, WI

This 5-day, 20-hour course is designed for K-12 teachers and community educators who are interested in building skills in youth garden education, development, and management. This course will emphasize an inquiry-based, hands-on approach to garden-based learning. Topics include garden design, funding, outdoor kitchens and garden-based nutrition, program evaluation, earth art, and more. Course instruction takes place outdoors in the award-winning Troy Kids' Garden. Graduate credit is available.


Learn more and register


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

Garden Joke of the Month

What do carrots do in their free time? Click here for answer

Manitowoc McKinley Students Build Greenhouse

"I think it would be cool to have these things [greenhouse salad greens] in our lunches so we can get our school involved and teach them the difference between the food that comes in a package and food that comes from a greenhouse." -Delaney Hutchinson

Hutchinson and other students from McKinley Academy are building a greenhouse, and researching and designing what to grow in it - from beet greens to mushrooms. Read the full article here.
Piktochart: A Visual Storytelling Tool

Any time children are present in a garden, stories are unfolding. The reactions that students have to new, sensory experiences are enlightening, courageous, and usually, funny. Capturing that magic and sharing it with others can help garner support from volunteers, funders, school boards...who knows where your most valuable resources will appear! Keeping a camera and a pen in your back pocket will help you capture moments you might otherwise forget. Putting photos and text together can be a powerful way to tell the world about the impact your garden is making. To string a number of photos  together with text - as well as quantifiable statistics such as number of children who visited the garden in a year - we love the world of infographics. We created the infographic below using Piktochart - a free, online tool that allows you to upload your own images into customizable templates. Many thanks to Walbridge School Garden for being our infographic guinea pigs! We love the results, and are excited to see other school garden infographics sprouting up as spring gets underway. WSGI is happy to offer assistance to school gardens looking to enter the world of visual storytelling - send us an email with your story ideas or questions at!

Success Story: Oaklawn Elementary

Oaklawn Elementary: Adventurous Eaters and Community Connections

As carefully as any Kindergartener can, Oaklawn Elementary's youngest students dug into the moist, cool soil of their garden bed last spring, gingerly covering the roots of spindly, two-inch-tall sunflower seedlings. "Those seedlings looked a little anemic when they got planted," garden leader Charis Collins admitted, "but by the end of the summer they were ten feet tall, with the most beautiful blossoms in the garden."

Perhaps it is the promise of seeing the unexpected, or being a part of something a little bit magical, that makes school gardens so enchanting, and keeps students and teachers coming back for more opportunities to grow.

At Oaklawn, the garden program is built on strong connections within the school and the surrounding community. Each spring, Collins sends out a notice to her fellow teachers, asking them how they plan to use their garden plot for the year - each class manages one bed. The Kindergarten's sunflowers are part of a seed starting unit, while other classes have grown foods such as kohlrabi and squash for the school cafeteria. Collins' Gifted and Talented students have used the garden for biology and math lessons, and summer school art classes got students out in the garden on a daily basis. "I’ve had a lot of support and freedom from our principal and other staff," Collins said. "No one has said it’s too much work, and they’re not afraid to step out of the box.”  

One of the in-school connections that has helped the garden reach all areas of the school is the support of district food service director Michelle Kloser, who has helped get garden produce into the cafeteria, both through the school lunch program and an "Adventurous Eaters" tray that features different garden-based recipes for students to taste. Successful Adventurers get a sticker that says, "I tried it!" Collins' young son has been one of many students affected by the program. "He came home one day and said, 'Mom, my favorite food is tikka masala!'" (Check out this recipe if you're interested in a delicious way to prepare tomatoes this summer.) Inspired by the garden, Kloser is making an effort to include other locally sources foods in the cafeteria as well.

In the surrounding community, the Oaklawn garden has received support from neighboring 3M, a local company that offered a grant to support the garden. "They are really close to our school building, so it felt like a good partnership, that we’re in their neighborhood," Collins said. The Menominee cooperative grocery offers support through a program that allows bring-your-own-baggers to place a "bean" in one of several jars to support community projects. At the end of the year, the co-op will donate five cents for each bean in Oaklawn's jar to support its garden program. "It’s like stuff that people do anyway – like passive fundraising," Collins, who hopes to continue strengthening the garden's co-op partnership, said.

Oaklawn also has strong connections to nearby UW-Stout. Farm to School AmeriCorps Volunteers have helped install garden beds and fence posts, and a visiting biology class brought in dozens of seedlings to plant with Oaklawn students.  Oaklawn also connected with WSGI to provide technical assistance, such as garden layout. “I can write a mean grant, but I’m not so great at other things, like garden design," Collins said. "They were able to hook me up with people who could help me."

Each partnership makes the garden a little bit stronger. Its interwoven network among teachers, parents, higher education, local businesses, and school food service creates a place of positive community for students to explore and learn. 

“I’m trying to keep an open mind about the future, and see where the community wants to go," Collins said. "I’d love to see it become even more of a community hub, where concerned, like-minded community members can connect with kids.  There’s just a lot of spokes on the wheel - I see partnerships developing between different aspects of the community, and gets kids’ hands in the dirt, of course. It’s a very natural connection.”


Read other school garden success storied collected by WSGI

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.  

For those new to WSGI, we couldn't leave out these amazing resources. "Got Dirt?" will walk you through starting a school garden, while "Got Veggies?" will help you implement a garden-based nutrition curriculum.  "Cultivating Childhood Wellness through Gardening" is an online training that will help you establish and utilize a school garden.  You can watch the entire training or select specific chapters.

Find them all here.

Want to see the Wisconsin School Garden Newsletter each month?   Subscribing is a great first step to supporting the Initiative. If you're already involved, don't worry - you can't  double-book yourself on the network list.
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