Finding Growing Partners

By Eve Pranis

"It's been wonderful having the Master Gardener's support. I had never done classroom gardening before. I've learned so much from her, and we're able to combine my teaching strategies with her horticultural knowledge to produce some really nice projects."

Throughout the country, teachers are finding help for their growing efforts from a wide range of individual, organizational, and business "partners" who support garden-based learning. Partners' support ranges from donating seeds and supplies to providing GrowLab units, teacher workshops, and initiating classroom projects.

Classroom gardening partnership possibilities abound. If you would like help getting equipment, supplies, or technical support for starting a GrowLab Program, or for enriching your existing program, consider approaching the following groups in your area:

Cooperative Extension. The Cooperative Extension Service operates offices in nearly every county in the country, and offers a wealth of written horticultural information and advice. Extension 4-H leaders and other staff have been among the most active GrowLab Partners. Many Extension offices also have Master Gardener programs to train community members in horticulture. These Master Gardeners, in turn, are required to use their new horticultural skills volunteering in the community, and many do so in the schools.

Garden/Horticultural Clubs. Local garden clubs may be willing to provide funds for purchasing indoor gardens or materials, conduct special classroom projects, or provide technical support. Consider appealing to a local group to "adopt" your classroom. While you probably won't find them listed in the phone book, try asking at garden centers, Cooperative Extension, or other horticultural organizations for contacts your area.

Conservation Districts. Every state in the country has regional co districts whose role includes promoting conservation education. Contact your local Conservation District education staff either by calling the State Department of Agriculture or by looking under Conservation District or Soil and Water Conservation District in your phone book.

Botanical Gardens, Museums, Environmental Centers. Many of these organizations have rich educational programs, materials, and staff who can support your growing efforts. Check with these groups in your area to find out what garden-based educational materials they have, and to let them know about the GrowLab Program.

Parent/Teacher Organizations. Don't overlook your Parent/Teacher Organization's vital link to the classroom. Most school PTO's are committed to raising money to support school programs. PTOs are often eager to support innovative programs and to find projects in which to involve parent volunteers.

Local Businesses (nurseries, garden centers, hardware stores, etc.). Don't be shy about approaching local businesses to donate materials or volunteer time in your school gardening program. Contributing to local education by supporting your "growing efforts" can be a good community service, an investment in future consumers, and an effective advertisement.

Large local businesses may offer grants to teachers for special educational programs or materials. Some have established business-school partnerships in which employees volunteer time in classrooms. Contact the community relations office to find out what types of educational support are available.

Tips for Approaching Partners

  • Describe or have your students write letters describing your growing project or vision. Be sure to highlight what the students will gain from the experience.
  • Have a ready list of supplies you'll need for the pro existing educational programs.
  • Consider inviting potential partners to school to lead an activity or presentation, help brainstorm gardening projects, attend a "salad party," or conduct a teacher workshop.

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