Our #GrowInspired series features our innovative and creative garden partners. Whether they’re working with two acres or 200 square feet, we are constantly in awe of their hard work and kick-ass gardens. These are some of our favorite growers and gardeners who inspire us to get out and play in the dirt.
KidsGardening is a non-profit organization that has been helping children get out in the garden for almost 40 years. They provide an extensive curriculum on their website as well as offer grant programs, contests, and other educational activities to educators and caregivers throughout the country. Their foundation is based on their belief that gardening not only improves kids’ lives, but also their communities and the planet. We couldn’t agree more! We chatted with Christine Gall, KidsGardening Program Director, about the history of the organization, how COVID-19 has impacted their programs, their Youth Gardening Grant (which Thriving Design donated towards), and their goals for 2021.
When KidsGardening broke away from the National Gardening Association in 2016 and became a non-profit, it already had an incredible library of content and educational resources for getting kids interested in gardening. “Essentially, what we are today is an independent nonprofit that functions on a national level, providing support to youth garden programs across the country,” explains Gall. “We do that by providing folks with original educational resources, whether it be curriculum books or free online resources like activities and lesson plans.” KidsGardening also makes available grant funding for a handful of different grants to youth programs throughout the country. “Our mission is to create opportunities for kids to play, learn and grow through gardening, engaging their natural curiosity and wonder,” says Gall. KidsGardening is unique in that they aren’t focused on any specific type of garden. “We’re providing educational resources and grant funding to school gardens, community gardens, as well as nonprofits that may be supporting non-traditional gardening projects such as those that engage justice-involved youths,” says Gall.
Many families have found themselves at home more in the past year due to COVID-19, which means many children are learning virtually. Gall says that KidsGardening saw a huge jump in traffic to their site as schools started distance learning and they used it as an opportunity to help families get more involved in gardening. “We created a brand new program called Lessons To Grow By, which has multiple months worth of sequential lessons so folks could sign up and get an email each month about the topic. Then each week, they would receive an educational packet, activities, book recommendations, and other helpful resources,” says Gall. KidsGardening created this program to not only help parents with outdoor activities at home, but also give teachers who are teaching remotely a curriculum for their students that involves getting outside.
So how does KidsGardening measure success? Gall says in 2020 they awarded $160k via grants towards 227 programs, reaching over 88k youth gardeners. They reached 87k people through their curriculum publications and 1.6 million were reached through their lesson plans. Their goal for 2021? To increase the number of people they engage with and help. “This can be done either by building out our educational resources or expanding our grant programs,” she says. A big initiative that they’re hoping to accomplish in 2021 is to expand the number of grants they’re awarding, in response to the recent increased interest in kids gardening.
One of KidsGardening’s big initiatives each year is their Youth Garden Grant. Since 1982, this grant has awarded nonprofit organizations, schools, or youth programs in the US funds and supplies to start a new garden program or expand an existing garden. This year, Gall says they received more applications than ever — over 800 — and they’ve expanded the winners to 30 different programs. The winning programs will be announced on January 29 and part of their awesome package includes Plant Support Kits from Thriving Design. Gall says, “It’s always been a competitive grant and even more so this year with the increased interest in getting kids outside and in the garden.” Within their community of grant winners, Gall says they’ve seen everything from the creation of small school gardens to support of science-centric learning to the expansion of youth entrepreneurial programs.
Three of last year’s 2020 Youth Garden Grant Winners:
- World Relief Seattle: "2020 Youth Garden Grant winner World Relief Seattle is using their Paradise Parking Plots Community Garden to empower refugee and immigrant youth and their families. Located in Kent, WA, the Paradise Parking Plots has grown steadily since 2017 when a local church donated a 1-acre parking lot to World Relief Seattle, a nonprofit dedicated to serving New American families in the Greater Seattle area. Over the years and with the help of over 1,500 volunteers, the once bare asphalt lot has transformed into a vibrant garden complete with 50 raised beds, a 16,000 gallon rainwater catchment system, food forest, bioswale, and youth-designed rain garden."
- Cheyenne River Youth Project: "A 2020 Youth Garden Grant recipient located in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, CRYP is connecting local youth to their Lakota culture and heritage through a diverse array of garden- and food-based programming. They are engaging with older youth through a variety of internships ranging in focus from sustainable agricultural and social enterprises to wellness and art."
- Plant Chicago: "Youth Garden Grant Winner Plant Chicago (PC) is filling a gap for STEM programming on the southwest side of Chicago by providing a variety of learning opportunities including free “Closed Loop Labs” (CLL) to local schools. A nonprofit dedicated to the cultivation of local circular economies through small business support, open source research and educational workshops for K-12 students, universities, and adults, PC targets Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood (BOTY), an approximately 100-block area where residents lack access to healthy, locally grown foods."
Five Top Winners Of The 2021 Youth Garden Grant:
- Abraxas High School Garden — Poway, CA
- Flint Community Schools Garden by Crim Fitness Foundation — Flint, MI
- Northern Youth Garden Project — Cannones, NM
- Sunrise Community Garden by South Dakota State University Extension — Martin, SD
- Zion Farms & Market Inc. Youth Garden — Minneola, FL
Besides keeping track of how many people they’re reaching, KidsGardening also measures success by “paying attention to attitude shifts amongst the youth benefiting from the garden initiatives we support,” Gall explains. She says they like to keep track of the following statistics:
- 90% of the educators we work with see increased environmental stewardship in their students
- 81% of the educators we work with see increased community building in their students
- 90% of the educturs we work with see increased social skills in their students
- 75% of the educators we work with see increased leadership in their students
- 70% of the educators we work with see increased nutritional attitudes in their students
It’s obvious that getting kids outdoors and interested in gardening is beneficial, but why? “Whether it’s a garden that’s producing food or a garden with flowers in it, it’s so important for kids to get outside and get that connection to the earth and nature,” says Gall. “It’s important for these kids to spend time outside and connect with something that’s living, especially in a time where it seems like they are increasingly focused on electronics, whether that be in their spare time or at school.” Gall says beyond this connection to nature, there are also a variety of social and emotional behavioral benefits; she says studies have shown that gardening can reduce stress for kids. “When you get out in the garden, there are so many opportunities to learn concrete things, but then also practice a bunch of soft skills,” Gall says. “The garden is just a really wonderful place for kids to engage and learn in a new and exciting way, a way they might not have necessarily encountered before.”
Besides the social and emotional benefits of gardening, Gall says that there is also a clear nutritional benefit. “It’s been frequently reported that kids who have had a hand in growing their own food are more likely to try those things,” she explains. “A lot of people use gardens to expose kids to new types of fruits and vegetables or to get them excited about healthy eating.” Gall points out that KidsGardening doesn’t value one type of garden over another; they enjoy funding both gardens that are producing food and gardens that grow pollinator-friendly flowers.
If you are interested in getting your child more involved in gardening and would like some helpful resources, visit KidsGardening.org or follow KidsGardening on Instagram. You can also make a donation to KidsGardening here.