San Francisco has long had the same issue as many urban school districts: students who live in the city often don’t have a strong connection to nature or the food that they eat. Thanks to several bonds and programs like Education Outside, which places garden coordinators in schools, many schools now have gardens that are used as outdoor teaching spaces. Below are snapshots of three school gardens, the story of their beginnings and how they are currently utilized at the school site.
AP Giannini’s garden began when their school was included in the 2003 bond, slating them to receive $100,000. The garden space was planned out in 2007, and created in 2011. Parents and teachers have worked with students to create an outdoor classroom complete with seating, a greenhouse, a native garden, fruits and vegetables, herb spiral, compost and vermiculture, and the latest addition: a chicken coop, which is currently in the process of expanding into a chicken run. Christian Johnson, a 7th grade biology teacher at Giannini, has taken on the maintenance of the garden and the chickens. He reports that students seem to enjoy the simplest outdoor tasks the most - dumping soil out of wheelbarrows, digging, foraging for berries and harvesting vegetables. Christian anticipates that with the upcoming addition of a garden coordinator, more classrooms will begin to use the garden as an outdoor classroom space.
Fairmount’s garden began around 6 years ago as parents began transforming unpaved spaces. Fairmount was able to create a full outdoor classroom three years ago with the help of bond money and the Education Outside program. Today, the garden is being managed and expanded by Education Outside educator Xochi Batlle, and Dorthee, a retired community volunteer whose career was in nonprofit gardening work. The current iteration of the garden features newly planted fruit trees, raised beds full of greens, squash, and radishes, fragrant herbs, and a beautiful and prolific old apple tree, bent by the wind. Through the garden, Xochi is able to cover many topics, including the cycle of life, photosynthesis and interactions of plants and animals. During a visit after school, students couldn’t stay away from the garden space, and Xochi and Dorthee happily spent time with them, watering, answering questions, identifying new plants and engaging the children’s five senses.
John O’Connell High School boasts a beautiful garden space on the Harrison Street side of their schoolyard. The garden has been in existence for several years, at one time as a community garden. The space went into disrepair, and was underutilized. In 2002, students and teachers revitalized the garden with a major cleanup. Today, Calder Gillam manages the garden space as part of the Schoolyard to Market program through Urban Sprouts and CUESA. The garden is used as a teaching tool not only in science and sustainability, but also nutrition and cooking, social studies and career readiness. Students care for the garden, harvest fruits and vegetables and then bring their produce to the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market to sell it to the public once a semester. Calder believes strongly in connecting students to nature, especially in an urban environment like the Mission District. He also feels that the entrepreneurial nature of the program gives students a special opportunity to learn business and life skills that will serve them well in the future. Calder would like to encourage more O'Connell parents and Mission community members to volunteer and connect with the garden.
Education Outside - places Corps members at school sites to build, manage, and teach about the garden. This site is also a great resource for learning more about starting a school garden.
Schoolyard to Market - works with urban high school students to grow, harvest and sell produce in San Francisco and Treasure Island.
Urban Sprouts - cultivates school gardens to build eco-literacy, equity, wellness, and community in underserved neighborhoods.
CUESA - promotes and educates about sustainable, healthy food throughout the Bay Area.