Whole Kids Foundation is built on a spirit of collaboration, and we act as a catalyst for change by investing in partnerships with respected experts in the fields of nutrition and education.

Together, we amplify each other’s efforts to improve children's nutrition and wellness.

Throughout 2023, we are spotlighting our current partners and how these organizations are growing the next generation of healthy eaters.

The School Garden Support Organization (SGSO) Network is an open peer-to-peer learning network with the goal of growing, sustaining, and elevating a movement of equitable garden-based education. The SGSO Network supports garden educators that serve at the school, district, regional, state, and national level with professional and leadership development, resources, and platforms to connect with other educators.

Whole Kids Foundation has been an active participant in the SGSO Network since its inception and has funded Life Lab’s Annual SGSO Leadership Institute since 2016, which has served as an incubator for and been instrumental in helping the SGSO Network grow and take shape as it is today.

We reached out to Tristana Pirkl, Director at School Garden Support Organization Network to get the scoop on how they are helping kids learn to love fresh, nutritious, whole foods.

Whole Kids Foundation (WKF): What is the SGSO Network’s approach to advancing children’s nutrition and wellness?

School Garden Support Organization (SGSO) Network : The SGSO Network believes in the power of school gardens! We know that when kids engage in school gardens they increase their fruit and vegetable consumption. We also know that school gardens make students more engaged learners, more resilient and empowered youth, and more engaged in the natural world - all factors that contribute to overall wellness. As a result, we seek to grow the number of gardens at schools, the number of teachers using gardens as a teaching tool, the number of students learning in schools, and the number of institutions and policies that support the sustainability of school gardens. We do that by streamlining resources in our Promising Practices and newsletter, providing professional development through our webinars, and by facilitating networking opportunities for school garden professionals at in-person gatherings, through our Peer Learning Communities, and virtually via our online Google forum.

Why are the SGSO Network’s efforts to support school garden professionals, those who support and run school gardens, so important in the school garden movement?

While the school garden movement has been building steadily for decades, it is still growing, leaving many school garden professionals to be operating alone or without much communal support from others doing the same work in their communities. This causes them to reinvent the wheel of the school garden wheelbarrow, not knowing that someone else in another area is also working to make their garden sustainable, trying to solve the same challenges. The SGSO Network seeks to bridge that gap and connect school gardeners, whether they are support staff at a school district, staff at a non-profit or garden educators teaching in the garden, to one another to share best practices and provide general solidarity and support. If we’re going to get to a school garden in every school, we’re going to need the people who run them to be as fully equipped with the best tools as possible!

How does the SGSO Network measure impact for school garden professionals?

As a peer-to-peer learning community, our programs are dictated by our members and what they need to be successful in their school garden programs. As a result, we follow where the need and demand is. Our webinars usually have upwards of 250 registered with an average attendance of 150 and hundreds of views on our archived recordings. We are a partner on Life Lab’s SGSO Leadership Institute which has three times the number of applicants than can attend and on the Growing School Gardens Summit which sold out at 400 attendees months before the conference. The majority of attendees at our events and webinars walk away with something they can implement in their programs and would recommend the SGSO Network to others. As a young organization, we hope to measure the growth of the number of policies and institutions that support school gardens in the future.

How has Whole Kids Foundation’s support impacted the SGSO Network and what impact has resulted from the partnership between WKF and the Network?

Since the SGSO Network’s inception in 2012, Whole Kids Foundation has been instrumental in helping to administer and grow the SGSO Network, especially when we were previously a volunteer collaborative, orchestrated by many school garden organizations. WKF provided in-kind support such as technology platforms to run our monthly webinars that have an average viewership of 150 people. But in 2016 with the funding support of the annual SGSO Leadership Institute with Life Lab, WKF helped to catapult the SGSO Network to where it is today bringing the applicants and alumni of the Leadership Institute into the SGSO Network, fueling our community with now 4,500 members, and funding the development of the Promising Practices that document the best practices of school gardeners across the country.

What current or upcoming project or program is your team excited about right now?

We’re excited to grow our Peer Learning Communities, gatherings of school garden professionals with similar interests, focus areas or challenges or from similar regional areas looking to connect and dive deeper into specific topics that will support their school garden work. We’d love for every school garden professional that needs support and community to find it through our Network! We’re also excited to develop new Promising Practices - we’re currently working on one for district-led school garden programs and updating a previous edition on running effective professional development for school garden educators.