Five years after our founding, we were certain that salad bars, school gardens and healthy teachers were key elements to a healthy school environment. Which started us wondering…are there other innovations that could have an equally profound impact for our kids? Fortunately, innovation was a core value of the United Health Foundation. Together, we set out to see what schools and educators were doing that we could support, amplify and learn from.

We received more than 300 letters of interest! They contained lot of great ideas for innovative garden education – we funded quite a few of those as special projects. Twenty four organizations were invited to submit a full application and we proudly funded nine projects across the U.S.

Our team will follow each of these organizations progress with the goal of sharing learnings and tools with the thousands of schools we support.


“A Garden for Every School,” is a free, online, video-based training program for school garden planning through Keep Iowa Beautiful, a nonprofit that brings cultural and economic vitality to communities through improvement and enhancement projects. Ten short, easy-to-share videos on provide step-by-step training on how to plan and build a garden, from assembling a team to asset-mapping. A downloadable school garden-planning guide is also available. The videos and planning guides can be revisited and updated annually as an ongoing resource for school gardens.

2018 Update: There are now ten videos that can inspire and support schools everywhere to start and succeed with a school garden:


With relatively few grocery options in South Los Angeles, access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited. This grant will support a nutrition education and entrepreneurship program at Charles Barrett Elementary School run in partnership with Girls Inc., which develops research-based programs that encourage girls to take risks and master challenges. Female students will have the opportunity to manage a garden, learn about the nutritional value of vegetables and create a sustainable business through class time and an after-school garden club. Students will tend the garden and will create a farmers market program. Through mentorship and education, this program addresses the need for fresh vegetables in the community, helps foster student entrepreneurship, and expands healthy eating and financial literacy for girls.


Willamette Farm and Food Coalition (WFFC) works to increase low-income individuals’ access to locally grown foods. The grant will enable WFFC to lead farm-to-school activities for students at the Bethel Production and Education Farm, which is funded and managed by the Bethel School District. This will also assist the district’s nutrition services staff in sourcing food from the farm, engage residents of the surrounding low-income community in gardening opportunities, and help establish a low-cost community support agriculture (CSA) program and farm stand.


Research indicates that teachers are more at risk than other adults to neglect self-care. Seeking to disrupt this trend, Jefferson County Public Schools will create professional development opportunities for its teachers to create self-care plans. The two-day educator retreat will include seminars that address topics such as mindfulness, self-care and nutrition. The teachers will then create curriculum to share with students and will form a monthly professional learning community to maintain momentum in mindful health and wellness.


The Oriental Institute will use the grant to help fund a program for teachers that use the archaeological exploration of food, health and nutrition in ancient civilizations to help students understand human diets and the importance of food diversity for health. The Oriental Institute is dedicated to providing learning opportunities about the cultures of the ancient Near East to children. This new program will help teachers connect children with the lives of ancient peoples and help them make healthy, educated food decisions. 30 fifth through eighth-grade teachers from the Chicago area will train to use this curriculum to teach nutrition and gardening through the lens of ancient archeology.


Connecting a district-wide garden education program to the district lunch program, Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) will further the “Farm at School” program. By providing all students with a full-day field trip to the district’s 10-acre Farm Lab, an organic garden for nutritional education, students will acquire grade-level-appropriate lessons that support a food-literate culture. Experiential learning will incorporate design, research, engineering, art, math and science to support nutrition that connects school garden education to the cafeterias at each school in the district. The Farm at School program will aid students in making the connection between EUSD-grown food and school lunch choices with a student-led branding campaign and videos to promote the Farm Lab food. An app for parents and students will share menus and notifications about EUSD-grown produce.

2020 Update: Farm Lab DREAMS campus is now fully developed and engaging all 9 schools in the Encinitas Unified district in addition to growing thousands of pounds of food for the school lunch program every year. Mim Michelove, the founding director of FarmLab, has started her own non-profit to support other districts who want to develop similar resources. We’re proud to support her work with National City Schools.


School garden programs continue to proliferate across the country, providing students with hands-on experience in growing, harvesting, cooking and eating healthy fresh produce; however, due to food safety concerns, lack of kitchen facilities or staff training, few school districts allow school garden produce to be served in cafeterias. The grant will support the development of a Garden-to-Cafeteria Toolkit for Slow Food USA’s chapter sites across the U.S. to support the protocol development and training necessary to have a successful program. The second phase of the project will involve in-person workshops at five school districts, and remote support for five to ten school districts to overcome any hurdles to successful implementation. This program is a tremendous opportunity for students to see the connection between fresh produce grown in the school garden and healthy food that is served in the cafeteria.

2019 Update: The toolkit is in action along with a program to support school districts that want to implement Garden to Cafeteria programs. There are many success stories, one includes our support for the state of Hawaii implementing Garden to Cafeteria in all island schools. Read all about the toolkit here.


Urban Strategies is a not-for-profit organization working to build safe and thriving communities in urban core neighborhoods. The grant will allow the expansion of the organization’s Green Garden Bakery program, a youth-run environmental veggie dessert business that engages underserved kids in a weekly after-school program. Students learn about gardening, cooking, and nutrition education, and will grow, harvest and develop recipes for their produce while simultaneously developing the brand and business. The expansion of the program will incorporate more youth and impact more individuals throughout Minneapolis.

2020 Update: This student run business has continued to grow! They recently completed fundraising to build their own commercial kitchen. Meet Head Baker Elicia Powel who joined our young entrepreneur round table.


Captain Planet Foundation is an environmental education nonprofit that operates Project Learning Garden to share a comprehensive school garden program with educators that include the tools necessary to integrate gardens in school culture. With the ultimate goal of helping children develop an early palate for fresh fruits and vegetables, the grant will fund the development of an app to collect school garden data, including pounds harvested, tasting events, lessons given, photos, quotes and workdays, along with a web-based interface to allow for streamlined reporting by multiple groups.