We’ve been busy: we’ve just kicked off our September Growing Healthy Kids campaign <link to campaign page>, an annual monthlong fundraiser that supports our programs in the U.S., Canada and the UK, and we are also now accepting applications for Garden and Bee Grants through October 15, 2019.

The Garden Grant program provides $2,000 monetary grants to help a new or existing edible garden at either a K–12 schools or nonprofit that supports children’s programming. Whole Kids Foundation has already awarded 5,452 garden grants in the U.S. and Canada, with FoodCorps as the main advisor and reviewer of grant applications. FoodCorps is a nonprofit dedicated to connecting kids to healthy food in schools.

We took a closer look into the Garden Grant process with someone close to the program and partnership, FoodCorps alum Peter Kerns. Peter has been a grant reviewer for a number of years.

Whole Kids Foundation: Tell us about your time in FoodCorps and what you are up to now?

Peter: I served with FoodCorps in Missoula, Montana with Missoula County Public Schools and Garden City Harvest, a community gardening and youth empowerment non-profit organization. I learned a great deal during my service including how to organize a community meeting, how to develop a school garden lesson plan, and how to balance nutritional needs for students in the school lunch program. I loved my time serving in Missoula, and I would recommend FoodCorps service to anyone wanting to make a difference in their community.

I currently own and operate Turkey River Farm with my wife Natasha Hegmann (also a former FoodCorps service member) in Northeast Iowa. We grow vegetables and fruits, raise heritage breed pigs and turkeys on pasture, produce pure maple syrup, and cultivate mushrooms. We are a community farm that welcomes volunteers, hosts cider pressing farm field trips for nearby elementary schools, and celebrates a yearly hog roast with our friends and neighbors. Our lives are filled with food and community and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Whole Kids Foundation: Why should schools have gardens?

Peter: School gardens are very useful teaching tools that increase students' exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables and promote active learning. Food production is a basic part of human life, and students should have a connection to it. Engaging students in school gardens creates this connection, increases the value they place on fresh food, and ultimately leads to a healthier, more resilient generation of adults.

Whole Kids Foundation: How should schools approach the process of applying for a Garden Grant?

Peter: The Whole Kids Foundation Garden Grant is an excellent grant program to help start an educational garden or revitalize an existing garden. Schools and nonprofits that are interested in funding from Whole Kids Foundation should look at the application as early as they can because the application is unique in that it can serve as a guide to developing a garden. The application asks about a garden committee and about community fundraising efforts and curriculum plans. Here are some things to consider:

  • Start a garden committee
  • Talk to local businesses like nurseries about in-kind donations
  • Seek advice from experienced gardeners or veggie farmers in your area.

Schools and nonprofits that have laid the groundwork, even if it is simply talking to others interested in the garden, often create stronger applications.

Whole Kids Foundation accepts garden grant applications each year from September 1 – October 15. Learn more about the Garden Grant.

Whole Kids Foundation: Do you have any advice for Garden Grant applicants?

Peter: A diverse and passionate group of people is the most crucial ingredient in a successful educational garden program. Develop a school garden committee. Consider including kids, local chefs, local garden centers, parents, farmers, community organizers and lumber mills. This way you can build a truly sustainable, community-based educational garden. There may be a single teacher, administrator, parent or student who brings the passion and drive to start a garden, but it will always be a team of people that creates a sustainable and successful educational garden.

Attend a Garden Grant Application Process Webinar for more information about the application process.

Whole Kids Foundation: When you’re reviewing Garden Grants, what are you looking for in a successful school garden plan?

Peter: I am looking for number of things: a clear vision for a successful school garden program and smart goals to guide the work; support for the garden both inside the school and outside in the community; a plan to make the garden safe, inclusive and well utilized; some developed curriculum plans, or any plan to get students into the garden; and, finally, I am looking for a detailed and realistic budget.

Whole Kids Foundation: What are the keys to planning a successful school garden?

Peter: The key is to start slowly and don't reinvent the shovel. One school garden I served started their garden with an excellent plan: one raised bed for each grade level and a single crop per bed — kindergarten seeded a bed full of carrots, first grade transplanted onions, second grade planted popcorn, etc. Crop planning can be challenging and no one should expect school gardens to time everything perfectly. There is a whole world of learning within one growing tomato plant or even one tablespoon of garden soil. There are so many resources for school gardens that no school needs to start from scratch. FoodCorps and Whole Kids Foundation are great places to find developed school garden lesson plans and curricula to get started.

Explore these 35 lessons plans to connect your classroom to the garden.

Whole Kids Foundation: How can schools measure success in the garden?

Peter: Measuring success is crucial to accomplishing goals and developing a school garden program. There are lots of good ways to measure success in a school garden program but the number of kids engaged in a school garden and time spent engaged are the most important measurements in my book. Any amount of time that any number of kids spend in a school garden is worth it.

From aquaponics to garden-to-cafeteria programs, check out the extraordinary things schools are doing with funds from our Garden Grant Program.

Whole Kids Foundation: How do FoodCorps and Whole Kids Foundation work together in the Garden Grant process?

Peter: FoodCorps and Whole Kids Foundation work closely together in the Garden Grant process. Whole Kids Foundation created and administers the grant and FoodCorps alumni review grants and help to develop and refine the application and review process. Whole Kids Foundation is dedicated to helping kids eat better and FoodCorps is dedicated to helping connect kids to real food; school gardens are a natural fit for both organizations' missions.

Review more Garden Grant resources including an FAQ, tips and a toolkit.