Many thanks to Nick Berard for use of the above photograph!

Wisconsin's Youngest Gardeners

Much like literacy and math skills, learning about healthy eating and how food gets to our plates begins at a young age. The opportunity to help grow (and taste!) fresh fruits and vegetables helps students try new foods and connect the garden to the table long before they enter Kindergarten. Wisconsin's youngest students are enthusiastic gardeners, learning quickly with all their senses.

Gardens at Early Care and Education (ECE) centers need not be large or costly to have a large impact on students. In this month's garden success story, one ECE center began their garden in an abandoned two-foot-wide hedgerow near their playground - there, they found plenty of room for zucchini, climbing beans, and cherry tomatoes. These easy-to-snack-on vegetables soon became favorites on the playground and in the lunchroom. Research has evidence to back up stories like this one, with studies showing that young students who are given the chance to plant and tend gardens are more likely to try the produce they grow.

Another Wisconsin ECE center told us that their kids "were so excited about caring for the garden that there were tears when it rained because they couldn't water it." 

Gardens at ECE centers are also wonderful settings for adults and children to explore and learn together. Research shows that young children look to adults for cues about what to eat and how to interact with their environment. A few minutes spent together happily crunching on snap peas, tasting and smelling herbs, or digging for (and admiring) earthworms can begin habits and spark interests that carry on for a lifetime!


Gardens for Infants and Toddlers 
“Me too!” This familiar toddler phrase can serve as a helpful reminder that everyone has a place in a garden. Careful attention to the garden design and materials used will help ensure an inspiring and safe space for even the youngest learners. This brief outlines the most important aspects to consider when designing garden spaces for infants and toddlers. Also check out our Early Childhood Garden to Table Brief
Farm to Childcare Curriculum Package  In this curriculum package from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, you will find activity ideas and resources for implementing Farm to Childcare at your early care and education center. Many of these resources are ready to use, while some are examples that offer opportunities for you to customize to your own context. Lesson planning charts are provided to help you introduce children to locally grown food items and concepts.
Outdoor Classrooms for Young Learners
Imagine a classroom with hills to climb, insects to observe, and special places to gather and reflect. Where does such a place exist? Outside! Outdoor classrooms teach children about the world around them. This brief outlines the benefits of nature play, suggests elements to include in an outdoor classroom, and highlights two Wisconsin schools combining nature, learning, and fun.
Blooming with Books 
This Story Sampler for preschool and Kindergarten-aged children contains five garden-related books, along with activities, questions, and ways to involve family and community in the stories. Also check out the Growing Good Kids book awardees for an extensive list of garden-related books for all ages!
Active Early and Healthy Bites
These two guides offer tips for increasing physical activity and improving nutrition at ECE sites! From the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Early Childhood Garden to Table  A garden at your early care and education center will not only grow delicious fruits and vegetables, but it will also grow healthier children! Youth gardens offer early childhood sites access to fresh produce and offer children opportunities to plant, care for, and taste a variety of fruits and vegetables. With this document, learn the benefits of youth gardens and the measures to take to keep your students and your garden healthy and growing!
Grow It, Try It, Like It
This garden-themed nutrition education kit for child care center staff introduces children to: three fruits - peaches, strawberries, and cantaloupe, and three vegetables - spinach, sweet potatoes, and crookneck squash. The kit includes seven booklets featuring fruits and vegetables with fun activities through the imaginary garden at Tasty Acres Farm! 

Community GroundWorks is now accepting applications for its Early Care and Education (ECE) Garden Micro Grant project.  With funding from Race to the Top, these one-time garden micro grants will offer regulated Wisconsin child care programs participating in YoungStar up to $1,000 to create new gardens or up to $300 to expand existing gardens.  This grant opportunity has been provided by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Race to the Top- Early Learning Challenge Grant.  The ECE Garden Micro Grant project is excited to help ECE programs across Wisconsin engage children in the many health and academic benefits a youth garden facilitates. Click here to learn more and apply for the Early Care and Education Garden Micro Grant. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.  Contact Beth Hanna at the information below with questions.

Events ... visit our Events page for more

MREA Energy Fair
June 17-19 - Custer, WI

Since 1990, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) has hosted The Energy Fair, transforming rural Central Wisconsin into the hot spot for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable living education. The Energy Fair brings over 13,000 attendees together to learn the latest and greatest in clean energy and sustainability, connect with others, and take action towards a more sustainable future. Gardening and education are always incorporated into this event! Check out Rainbow's End, the dedicated education tent with programs and activities for all ages of kids!

Learn more about the Energy Fair

Buy Energy Fair Tickets

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
The Registry Statewide Training Calendar

The Registry, Wisconsin's Recognition System for the Childhood Care and Education Profession, maintains an updated search tool for ECE focused trainings throughout the state of Wisconsin. Search for trainings by location, subject, or keyword. 

Search The Registry

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

Garden Joke of the Month

What is the worst vegetable to have on the grill?

Click here for answer

School Meals "Rock" in Plymouth

This two-minute video from the Wisconsin DPI celebrates a Farm-to-School success story in the Plymouth School District, where school gardens and local food purchases are integrated with school lunch offerings and nutrition education! 

Watch the video.

Position Posting: Food Policy Coordinator

The City of Madison is hiring a Food Policy Coordinator. This position has "an intense focus on increasing equitable access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food to all communities and developing polices that positively impact the health and well-being of all residents of the City of Madison and beyond."

Read the full job description

Success Story: Creative Learning Preschool & Childcare Center

Creative Learning Preschool & Childcare Center: A Garden in the Heart of the City

Every Wednesday, the Dane County Farmer’s Market sets up shop on Martin Luther King Boulevard, between City Hall and Monona Terrace. Shoppers include local restaurants, college students, state employees on lunch breaks, and…toddlers. Outfit with buggies and hand-holding ropes for safe travel, students from Creative Learning Preschool and Childcare Center (CLP) listen to the cheese vendor talk about his cows and the honey seller describe her bees. They visit the vegetable stands, where Susan Rodin and other teachers ask questions to get students thinking: “What letter does this start with? What color is it? Where do you think this came from? What do you think this will taste like?”
CLP’s weekly visits to the farmer’s market tie in to a school-wide Farm to Table program that started with a hedgerow near the playground, and grew to include five garden beds, fresh garden produce in students’ lunches, and even an indoor play farmer’s market.
Rodin, who has worked at CLP for over twenty years, describes the garden program as an ever-evolving story. “Our first crop was to plant sunflowers in among the hedges,” she said. “We wanted to plant something that the kids could help with. Those sunflowers were tall and gorgeous.” That was over ten years ago. The following year, the hedges were removed during a playground remodeling. The hedge was never replaced. “The teachers just took over,” Rodin said, “They planted cherry tomatoes, zucchini, basil, and green beans – they picked low key crops that they kids could pick and eat, just by reaching through the playground fence.”
Several years ago, CLP added three raised beds in the playground itself, to give students full access to part of the garden all the time. These beds hold an abundance of herbs and snackable veggies. “When the kids first found out that they could just pull off a leaf from the herbs and eat it,” Rodin recalled, laughing, “they ate them all! For a while we had a garden full of all these stalks. But that’s why we do it - they really see where all the ‘green stuff’ comes from. If they plant it, and grow it, and water it, there’s a much better chance for them to try it.”
Students also visit the garden with their classrooms, and each teacher incorporates garden education in a way that works best for the age they teach. Families are also invited to visit the garden to harvest and take home produce at the end of each day when they pick up their children. Any produce that isn’t eaten directly is sent to the school kitchen, and ends up as part of lunch.
On the garden’s longevity at the school – over ten years and counting! – Rodin sings the praises of all the teachers who have been involved over the years. “ Even with staffing changes there is room for positive growth as it is when new staff join the program that they bring fresh ideas to the school gardens.
Like so many gardeners – and so many educators – Susan Rodin seems ready to go with the flow, and solve problems as they come up. Playground beds, for example, have become very compressed due to students walking on the soil. This year the school plans to put low fences around the beds so the kids can still reach in to plant and pick, but to reduce walking in the garden. In the toddler area, the school will install a special place near the garden for young students to simply dig in the soil all season long, without disturbing plants. “It’s all a work in progress,” Rodin says, “if it doesn’t work, we try something new!”
This year, the school has a huge challenge – and potential opportunity. The building where CLP is located is home for one of the only childcare centers in central downtown Madison. CLP has the option to buy the building if they can raise the down payment by August 31. If the building sells to a new owner, they will likely have to relocate, leaving their gardens and weekly trips to the farmer’s market behind. They have begun a Capital Campaign to buy the building. To learn more about how to get involved visit:

Read about the garden at Kettle Moraine YMCA Early Learning Center

Read about the garden at St Luke's Lutheran Preschool

Read other Wisconsin school garden success stories

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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