Schools aren’t usually known for their gardens, especially when a lean economy means budget cuts and crowded classrooms. But thanks to a grant program, sponsored by the Home Depot Garden Club in partnership with the National Gardening Association, kids across the country are harvesting baskets of warm-from-the-sun tomatoes, snacking on ripe strawberries, and filling vases on teachers’ desks with fresh-cut sunflowers.
The children are growing their own foods and flowers, with help from educators and involved parents, and funding from Youth Garden Grants (YGG), a program that works to build and maintain school gardens across the U.S.
Since it began six years ago, Home Depot’s YGG program has supported over 600 schools with more than $400,000 in funds. Recipient schools or other kid-centric organizations also receive curriculum and gardening help from enthusiastic employee volunteers.
Home Depot associate Jerry Flick supervised the glue bottles and hammers when a group of second graders from Cougar Run Elementary School arrived at his store in Highlands Ranch,
Colorado. While the sun beamed down, the children gathered under shady canopies in the store parking lot to piece together wooden planter boxes. After the glue dried, the kids returned to school to fill their planters with soil and seeds.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, Home Depot store employees helped children from the local YMCA Magic Year Learning Center pick out plants and tools for the raised beds in their urban garden. “The children have been involved in every stage of this project,” says educator Melissa Graziano, adding that they’re responsible for maintaining their small garden plot of fruits and vegetables.
Garden grants have helped schools introduce students to educational aspects of gardening, as well as the fun.
Grant recipient Kathleen Conroy helped the students at her school, North Carolina’s Providence Spring Elementary, grow a carnivorous plant garden. Conroy can’t say that the project directly increased her fifth graders’ science test scores, but she proudly reports, “(We) feel that the garden activities did contribute to our students achieving the highest science test scores this year in our school district.”
At Waters Elementary School in Illinois, grant recipient Julie Moore was delighted to see her students make a connection between the foods they eat and the natural world. Her students, she says, “are constantly amazed by the things they witness in the gardens and native plant areas. One anticipated event in the fall is the potato harvest and bake. Students line up for first, then seconds in the crisp fall air…Without these opportunities, these city kids would lose their connection to the earth, and miss the link to where all of our food ultimately comes from.”
Patty Schoenhuber, a second grade teacher from Lincoln Community School in Vermont, is helping her students learn about the carrots, beets, kale, onions, garlic, and potatoes they’re growing with their grant funds. “A lot of our students live in rural Vermont, so they have gardens at home. But our school garden sparks a huge amount of interest in those who don’t have gardens. We start from seeds in the spring and later have a farmers market to sell our extra plants. The kids get very pumped up. Our whole second grade curriculum is about answering the question, ‘How are we connected to our food?’”
Home Depot Garden Club’s youth gardening grants aren’t limited to schools. Non-profits, youth groups, community centers, parks and recreation departments, and many other groups that work with students may also apply for one of 100 grants that will be awarded later this year (2012).
Of the 100 awards, 95 will go to youth gardening programs in the form of $500 gift certificates. Five more programs will win awards valued at $1000 each. Each of those awards will consist of a $500 gift card to The Home Depot and a $500 gift card to the National Gardening Association’s Gardening with Kids catalog.
“We’ll absolutely continue to have a garden at school,” Schoenhuber says, when asked what will happen when the grant funds are used up. Her students enjoy what they’re doing too much to stop. “We’ll keep selling plants from seeds and putting the money back into the garden. Our garden is here to stay.”
Apply for a Home Depot Garden Club Youth Gardening Grant
Youth gardening grants are making a tremendous impact for good on students and communities across the U.S., and the Home Depot Garden Club invites your qualified organization to apply today. The deadline for the 2013 grants is December 3, 2012.
Eligible applicants must plan to garden with at least 15 children between the ages of 3 and 18 years old. If you’ve won in a previous year, you may reapply after a one-year waiting period between winning and reapplying (for example, if you won in 2011, you can apply again in 2013).
It’s easy to apply. Simply visit kidsgardening.org and look for the box that reads, “Garden Registry.” Click “Sign-Up Today” to get started. Winners will be notified via email on February 19, 2013, and their names will be posted on the website.
If your program is selected, you’ll be required to submit two surveys, which the NGA will use to evaluate the impact of the grants and gather ongoing support for youth garden activities. The NGA will provide instructions on how to fill them out. You’ll also need to provide 5 to 10 digital photos, along with permission forms signed by the parents of any youth shown in the photos. Finally, you’ll submit a one-page essay to detail your program’s success and its achievements. Good luck with your application!