Cultivating the Next Generation of Gardeners

By Michael Metallo

"This is a lot of work, and I don't see the value in spending my time this way." Those words stabbed me in the heart as my 17-year-old son and I worked to prepare a vegetable garden bed in our new Vermont home. Once the shock passed, I steeled myself and probed for details. My son informed me that it was a lot easier to buy food at the grocery store. More stabbing pain! Sadly, my son's attitude toward gardening is not atypical. In today's fast-paced, instant-gratification oriented society, children aren't being afforded the opportunity to cultivate an appreciation for process-oriented activities such as gardening.

I'm in my eighth month as president of National Gardening Association (NGA) and I'm happy to report that gardening has again become a priority in my life. However, my family's years of living in Washington, D.C., on a shady street with a hectic lifestyle took its toll on my son's initiation into the wonders of gardening. I let him down. Sad to say, so did the public school system. There were few significant school garden programs in the D.C. area when my son was in grade school, so he received no hands-on garden-based education. He missed making that all-important people-plant connection.

This vignette from my own life reflects the urgent need to establish school gardening programs across the American public school landscape. Every child should have a chance to make a connection with plants, to explore gardens as a forum for academic learning and socialization, and to make the connection between growing food and living a healthy lifestyle. We have an obligation to teach our children about the earth-to-table philosophy that is so important in developing environmental stewardship principles later in life.

Hopefully my younger son, now 12, will develop an appreciation for gardening when he picks his first pea off the vine and tastes the warm flavor of a freshly picked tomato from our garden. And hopefully his public school will help me teach him the value of plants as a vital part of his life. At NGA we believe far too few schools engage in gardening. For 30 years we've advocated using school gardens to help kids make the people-plant connection at a young age. We continue this work through the newly launched Adopt a School Garden? (ASG) initiative, which enables individuals and corporations to give directly to their local schools for the purpose of establishing gardens for learning. With your help, we can make school gardening a reality for every child. Establishing a garden at your neighborhood school is the first step toward growing the next generation of healthy, environmentally aware citizens. Learn more about the ASG program and find out how you can help.

This article originally appeared in NGA's print quarterly, Growing Ideas. This newsletter features projects, profiles, and tips that address topics of interest to home, school, and community gardeners. Growing Ideas is mailed free to paid Supporters of NGA. Sign up for a free 6-month trial subscription (two issues).

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