School garden fundraising -- best practices

Fundraising is a consistent question that comes up for schools that are planning, maintaining, or expanding a garden. Grants are helpful for many school gardens, but are certainly not required! Many schools have found success with raising funds on their own, with or without grant support.  Conversations with garden coordinators from around Wisconsin have helped us build this list of best practices for school garden fundraising. Make sure to check out our success story this month to read about one school that has put the list into action!
Create a wish list
It’s easier to ask for resources if you know exactly what you need. Putting garden needs into a list format helps encourage people to give what they can, and see where their donation is making a difference. Information to include: number of items needed, cost if bought new, and whether used items would suffice. Also consider putting volunteer hours or specific skills on your list!
Ask for help
The response may overwhelm you! Many people are excited to donate or volunteer for a project they can see directly benefits their kids or community. Seek help within your school – parents, students, staff – as well as from businesses, non-profits, and garden enthusiasts in the surrounding community. Make a plan to recognize donors and volunteers.
Share your garden story or vision
Get people excited about helping by sharing how the garden will benefit students, stories about what you’ve already accomplished, and your vision for moving forward. Consider developing a 30-second “elevator speech” to share with people on the fly, writing a garden column in your school newsletter, or starting a garden facebook page to share photos, videos, and quotes. You can also share your story with WSGI – we’ll help you write your story for publication in local newspapers, or across the state via our monthly newsletter!
Plan in phases
Some of the most-repeated advice from experienced school garden coordinators is to start small, and grow from there. This is excellent advice overall, and especially when funds are limited. Set a yearly goal that feels achievable, and build on your success with a new goal each season!
Think outside the “stuff”
While some material objects are certainly needed for a garden, consider how you can make use of skills and expertise to achieve the same results. Is there a local handyman or woman who can build a compost barrel instead of buying one? A parent who has experience writing grants? A student who is a great photographer or social media guru? Many people have multiple skills to share, or can develop skills they don’t even know they have!
Include everyone
In the midst of building an outdoor classroom, one Wisconsin teacher told us that his strategy was to just say “yes” to everyone who offered to help. “Whatever they had to give, I found some way to incorporate it,” he said. “Then they were invested, and they got other people invested, and it just grew from there.” While we recognize that this exact strategy may not work for everyone, cultivating an inclusive attitude is definitely recommended!


WSGI Grants Page: We update our grants page each month with new grant opportunities for school gardens. This is a great place to begin if you are seeking grant funding for your garden. We do not list grants specific to counties or communities, but encourage you to search for these opportunities in your area!
Annie's Garden Funder: Annie's Homegrown, Inc. has set up a webpage via CrowdRise for schools to organize online fundraisers specifically for school gardens. You can create your own, or browse their list of fundraising tips. 
Seed Libraries 
Seed libraries are popping up around Wisconsin, and are a great way to reduce costs, connect to curriculum, and build community. Read about the development of seed libraries in Wisconsin in the Wisconsin State Journal, or watch this webinar about starting a seed library, featuring Kelly Becker from Wisconsin's first seed library in La Crosse.

Woolly School Garden Fundraising Kit:
The Woolly School Garden has made their fundraising toolkit available online for any school to adapt and use! It includes fundraising ideas, templates for fundraising fliers and donation request letters, and garden grant tips. Recently highlighted by The Edible Schoolyard.
Healthy Fundraising: 
This page has links to a number of different fundraising ideas that are healthy alternatives to more "traditional" youth fundraisers like selling candy bars. Make sure to check out the PowerPlay Campaign pdf linked to the page. From the Collective School Garden Network.
Cultivating Safety
This booklet contains guidelines to help adults teach children and teens how to work safely in the garden. Super handy!

Events ... visit our Events page for more

Growing Minds: Garden Course for Educators July 20-24, 2015 

This professional development course uses hands-on, inquiry-based instruction that emphasizes the garden as a teaching tool for K-12 teachers throughout Wisconsin. Held in Community GroundWorks' award-winning Troy Kids' Garden, there is room to be inspired, generate ideas, and gather resources for your own youth garden.

Midwest Environmental Education Conference: Apply to Present
Proposals due: April 24, 2015

MEEC is coming to Wisconsin in October of 2015! This conference pulls together Environmental Educators from around the region. Submit a proposal for a classroom presentation, interactive session, or workshop. One of the themes is Sustainable Foods! The proposal application is short and sweet. 

Apply to present
Growing Roots in Farm to School Webinars: These free webinars are all offered at 1:00pm central time.

April 16: Curriculum Integration
April 30: Program Sustainability
May 13: Evaluating Your Program
May 28: Tying it all Together - Digging In

Garden Workshops at Wellspring:  If you're in the West Bend area this month, check out these workshops!

April 11: Spring Garden Planning
April 18: Vermiculture (Worm Composting)
April 28: Mushroom Propagation

More information

Early Childhood Education Conference:  April 24-25, UW Stout

Learn more about how WSGI fits in with early care and education at this fun and exciting conference! WSGI's Beth Hanna will present on Friday, April 24.

More information

Nature Based Play Design Workshop:  May 8, Madison

This free workshop will feature Sharon Gamson Danks, author of "Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation." Sharon will lead a technical workshop on design for nature-based play in schoolyards and parks. RSVP by April 25. 

More information and RSVP contact

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

Garden Joke of the Month: 
What is small, red, and whispers?

Click here for answer.

School gardens in the news WSGI helped write this article about Horicon High School's incredible summer garden program for one of our past newsletters, and it got picked up by the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen! Also highlights some of the work WSGI does around the state.

Read the article.


Success Story: Dixon's Innovative Garden

Dixon's Innovative Garden: Fun with Fundraising!
When Wendy Penney and Molly Kaminsky began fundraising to build a garden at Dixon Elementary School, the outpouring of support they received exceeded their highest hopes. In fact, the newly envisioned Dixon’s Innovative Garden, or DIG, garnered so much support from the community in its first year, that it didn’t even need most of its PTO-designated funds to get growing.

“There’s been an amazing level of involvement from the beginning,” Penney, a parent volunteer at the school, said. “We involve students at every grade level, and over the summer, we recruit volunteer families for one week of garden care each. Our first summer, we had more volunteers than we had weeks!” In the fall of its first growing season, Dixon’s PTO sponsored a Take Your Parents to Lunch Day event that served garden-grown, Kindergarten-harvested carrots and potatoes, roasted with fresh picked rosemary and thyme. (With refrigerator pickles on the side!) The district’s Head of Nutrition attended the cost-free event as a special guest cook, helping serve the garden goodies to over 150 parents and their students.
DIG t-shirt

In the fall, DIG sees Kindergarteners exploring for worms in the spaces around carrots and potatoes (before they end up on lunch trays!), Boy and Girl Scouts picking slimy slugs off leaves and spreading mulch during Earth Week, and garden herbs such as oregano and basil on their way to the district’s Nutrition Department – which returns the produce in dishes such as homemade chili for the school lunch program. Fifth graders participate in a farm-to-table nutrition workshop, where Penney teaches how to make healthy snacks with cucumbers, tomatoes, and other garden veggies. During the garden’s first year, parent volunteers helped install raised garden beds, and the fifth grade P.E. class got involved mixing and hauling soil. “It really gives them a sense of pride and ownership over the garden,” Penney said. “They will come back and say ‘oh, that’s the bed I did!’”

But before students and parents could be found DIG-ing out in the raised beds that are now carved into a gentle slope near the school, garden fundraising was in the works. At the school’s April Art Gallery Night, Penney set up a garden table where visitors could “sponsor a bed,” by making donations of different amounts. Sponsors received garden t-shirts, and for the largest donations, a metal plaque on one of the garden beds.

Dixon also partnered with a neighboring restaurant called Parkside 23, which has its own garden just behind the school. The restaurant fundraiser allowed DIG volunteers to hand out fliers to Dixon families and staff about the school’s garden project; if diners submitted their flier at the end of their meal, Parkside donated 25% of their bill to DIG. “We really aligned in our values of serving real, fresh, healthy food, so this was a perfect match,” Penney said.

Dixon sought sponsorship from other local businesses as well, many of which made donations in the form of gift cards or profit sharing. In the spring, Dixon even organized it’s own farmer’s market, where Dixon families and students sold seedlings, baked goods, and handcrafts, with proceeds directly benefiting DIG.

In its first year of fundraising, the DIG project raised an incredible $3,100. The school’s PTO gave an additional $1,000 to support an Eagle Scout Eric Schuh in building a wooden fence around the garden. The PTO had also designated funds to support the garden directly, but because of the success of the fundraising, this money was saved for future years, giving DIG a generous yearly operating budget. “Because of the PTO support, we won’t have to do much fundraising next year” Penney said. “We’ll still set up a table at the Art Gallery Night to generate excitement and volunteers, but we won’t need sponsors like we did our first year, unless families want a personalized name plaque on a raised bed, of course.”

As it celebrates a year of success, DIG is excited to take on new projects to benefit its students, such as an expanded outdoor classroom space next to the garden. They are also excited to pay it forward to others interested in school gardens. This season, a neighboring school will use Dixon’s greenhouse space alongside the school’s Garden Club – a recess program Penney began four years before DIG came to life, using up-cycled milk cartons for students to plant their own seedlings. Penney is also ready and willing to share spreadsheets about fundraising and garden planning with anyone who asks. “This is such an incredible project – I think it’s going to take off like wildfire,” she said.

Raising Support for DIG
This table summarizes all the ways that Dixon raised support for it's garden!

PTO  $1000 – for Eagle Scout fence project. PTO also had designated funds for building the garden, but other fundraising efforts were so successful, that instead, they designated $1000 per year for refreshing and revitalizing every future year. This funding will allow DIG to spend time and energy on the garden instead of the fundraising aspect.
Sponsor-a-Bed $1,685 – from community donations. Different donation levels allowed participants to get a garden t-shirt and/or garden bed plaque.
Dixon Spring Farmer’s Market $800 – from sales of seedlings planted by Dixon’s Boy Scouts, bulbs, baked goods, and home-made maple syrup and canned goods donated by Dixon students and families.
Parkside 23 Restaurant $310 – from patrons who chose to designate 25% of their bill to help the garden on a specific date.
Great Harvest Bread Co. $60 – 20% of its farmer’s market sales on a specific date
First Grade Girl Scouts $115 – donated from their bake sale
Stein’s $100 – gift card for supplies
Home Depot $50 – gift card for supplies, plus labor cutting wood
Lowes Fencing materials for Eagle Scout project sold at cost.

Dixon Students 105 Garden Club students, countless Boy and Girl Scouts, and gardening classrooms
Dixon Parents 60 families helped directly with the garden as volunteers
Dixon Staff “Support with all things gardening”
Amy Jacobson Art teacher – designed t-shirts for garden fundraising. Driving force behind future Dixon outdoor classroom.
Molly Kaminsky First grade teacher – responsible for garden curricular connections, assisted with garden planning and fundraising, led compost education with nutrition department, assisted in outdoor classroom planning
Dr. Siegenthaller Dixon’s principal – offered advice for doing things “right” within school boundaries
Wendy Penney Lead fundraiser, Garden Club coordinator, and DIG garden champion!
Elmbrook Schools Department of Food and Nutrition Services Donated a composter, helped with composting program, excited to use garden produce in food service
Eric Schuh Eagle Scout – designed and built 75’x13’ garden fence, after obtaining a permit from City of Brookfield to build.

Contact Wendy Penney and
Read other Wisconsin School Garden Stories

Share your garden story #wischoolgardens

Tell the world what is going on in your school garden. Stories help build support for school gardens, and can help sustain your program via community engagement and school pride!  

Share your story.

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.

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