School gardens across Arkansas promote our agriculture industry with powerful hands-on experiences that make learning come alive. Every garden offers a chance for students to explore a meaningful and fulfilling career in the field of agriculture with life-long lessons that range from promoting community engagement to healthy eating habits.
For those reasons and many more, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture hosts an annual School Garden Contest across the state so schools can compete for funding and recognition of a job well done. The schools who participated this year were graded on a number of parameters to include: the tangibility and practicality of the school’s goals for the following year; best practices to ensure the garden is embedded and lasting in the school culture; how the garden supports educational opportunities; how it engages community stakeholders; and how the school uses their harvested produce in their community, classrooms, and cafeteria.
This year is the 7th annual contest, in which 32 schools from all over Arkansas participated. Six of those schools were specifically chosen and awarded for planning and implementing their school garden program. Each application was carefully reviewed by a selection committee who chose this year’s winning programs:
Best School Garden Start-Up Proposal: Fairview Elementary, Texarkana
Fairview Elementary’s proposal included achievable goals and a clear path forward to maintain its start-up garden. They also included specific community stakeholders that they want to engage, such as their high school’s greenhouse and the local master gardeners, in order to ensure the school garden’s success! We look forward to seeing what they bring to the table next year!
Best Harvest Partnership Garden: Fayetteville Public Schools, Fayetteville
Fayetteville Public Schools has developed a procedure for incorporating their produce from school gardens in their lunches, and also has a “Harvest of the Month” program that highlights an ingredient from a local farm for taste tests. This past year, Fayetteville Public Schools were able to use produce from their school gardens in lunch packets during COVID-19 school closures! This is a great example of how these programs can solve problems and observe the impact and reality of their hard work!
Best Education Based Garden: ACCESS Group Inc., Little Rock
ACCESS Group Inc. utilizes its school garden to implement multi-sensory, hands-on educational, and therapy programs for individuals with developmental disabilities. They use the garden to enhance classroom instruction, teaching not only gardening skills but also developing social skills, implementing vocational training, and encouraging healthy eating and trying new foods. This is a great example of how school gardens have a wider application than just planting and growing!
Best Community Collaboration Garden: Hugh Goodwin Elementary, El Dorado
Hugh Goodwin Elementary’s school garden has engaged the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension, Union County Master Gardeners, local farmers, and local businesses to enhance the garden’s educational potential for its students and to increase the resources available to the garden. This school committed the phrase “it takes a village” to heart!
Overall School Garden Winner: West Arkansas Child Development Inc., Alma
West Arkansas Child Development Inc. has integrated the school garden into much of their classroom learning and has gone above and beyond by focusing weekly curriculum themes on aspects of the garden and implementing taste tests of garden produce. They have a variety of community partners that assist in the maintenance and expansion of the garden and enhance students’ learning. With an active garden committee, diverse funding, and professional development opportunities for its staff, West Arkansas Child Development Inc. has taken measures to ensure that the garden is a sustainable and long-lasting part of the school.
Champion of Sustaining School Garden: Carolyn Lewis Elementary, Conway
Carolyn Lewis Elementary has a robust garden education program, with cross-curricular educational activities and a designated classroom for hands-on cooking and nutrition classes. They have implemented initiatives such as a garden club, a Summer Adopt the Garden Program, and an annual plant sale, and have a diverse number of community partners. They also include their garden produce in their school Snack Backpack Program and feature local farmers in a “Harvest of the Month” in their cafeteria.
Never too Late to Start
If you are an active gardener, community representative, ambitious student, or educator with a green thumb, consider leading a school garden in your school! If you would like more information, visit the Department’s Farm to School and Early Childhood Education Program website page or contact Hanna Davis, State School Garden Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more!