United Nations Promotes Sustainable Gardening in Schools to Combat Hunger and Poverty Worldwide

One of the most prominent international food organizations, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently developed a guide to help schools world wide add sustainable gardens to their campuses and curriculum. Beyond basic nutrition education and more immediate hunger issues, FAO imagines school gardens as addressing a slew of persistent and global problem areas: education, environment, nutrition, and livelihood. While the school garden teaching toolkit and manual developed by FAO is fairly comprehensive, there is room, and need, for each individual and disparate community (or region, climate, culture, etc.) to adapt the guidelines to its particular needs. But regardless of how practical or widespread FAO’s suggestions are, it is no less striking that such a major and global organization would so strongly recommend sustainable school gardens as a real tool to combat poverty and support sustainability all over the world.

When you think about it, school gardens really might be the cure-all for many of our world’s social and environmental issues, at least on the grand scale that FAO hopes seems to envision. If the one of the biggest barriers in poverty is education, the garden might be an ideal place to learn. Learning can happen in a school garden on a whole spectrum of levels, and touch a wide variety of bigger issues. In something as “small” and “manageable” as a school garden, important lessons naturally arise about supporting a healthy environment, healthy food and eating habits, community building, and life skill development as a form of empowerment. To a lesser extent, the garden is also presented as a place for relaxation and healthy activity.

FAO breaks the role of school garden down into roughly five points: growing food for healthy eating, environment, ownership, families and community, and motivation. Growing food goes beyond the basics, encompassing the entire seed to plate experience to really enforce the connection between growing healthy food and eating a healthy diet. All of the five focuses are intended to bridge the gap between theory and practice, to transfer agency to the learners, and reinforce classroom lessons with hands-on practice. One of many objectives of the garden is to give learners the skills and ability to create livelihoods via gardening post-school, equipped with knowledge about protecting and working with the environment and growing food in a sustainable way.

The lesson plans provided by FAO are prefixed by a disclaimer that it is very difficult to craft a curriculum that will suit every corner of the world, which seems like a call for individual countries or regions to put some effort into creating their own blueprint for sustainable school gardens based on this primer. The lessons, however, seem to touch on all the basics, and function more as a guide than anything too overbearing. Obviously, lessons will differ depending on age group, climate, culture, urban or rural location, among so many other variables. But some things are universally important, such as soil types and soil health, or what constitutes organic gardening.

By providing a road map for building sustainable gardens in school yards world wide, FAO is helping to set the stage for a real school garden revolution. But beyond providing a logistical road map for educators interesting in building sustainable gardens, FAO is also just sending a message of endorsement that validate the use of gardens in a school environment. In many places, school gardens have been met with opposition or skepticism, but now that even the United Nations says its an essential idea, who can say no?

photo credit: grant haynes