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school gardenAs a parent, you might not have much control over what’’s served in the cafeteria (though you can certainly request healthier options). But with a core group of volunteers, you can talk to administrators about creating a school garden. Here are some tips on making it work, once your school has signed off on the project:

Apply For Grants

To help with funding, the USDA’’s federal Farm to School program offers $5 million in annual grants to help schools start and develop programs. (For more, visit fns.usda.gov.) You may also be eligible for state and nonprofit grants.

Choose Crops Wisely

“It’’s important to have things growing all year round,”” says Nitza Bernard, on-staff farmer at Highland Hall Waldorf School. “”Start with some plants that mature quickly, like lettuce, which can grow in a month,”” so kids see results.

Ask for Discounts

When sourcing supplies, ask garden centers and seed companies if they offer school discounts (or even freebies). Bernard says that two seed companies that do give school discounts are Peaceful Valley (groworganic.com) and Turtle Tree (turtletreeseed.org), which both ship nationally.

Think About The Irrigation Issue

Watering a school garden consistently when class isn’’t in session will take some devoted volunteers, especially if you live in an area with a long dry season. “”Watering can be physically time consuming, so you need a plan for getting it done during school breaks and over the summer,”” says Denise Phillips, HEAL Project board president.

Get School Staff on Board

“By making our garden curriculum meet state standards, it’’s something that makes the teachers’’ jobs easier,”” says Phillips, rather than being something extra that takes time away from the lessons.

Avoid The “O” Word

“We’’ve been careful not to say we’re tackling childhood obesity, because we don’’t want to seem like we’re targeting any one group,”” says Phillips. “”Rather than focusing on weight, we say that we’’re helping to reduce the incidence of childhood illness,”” says Barb Mechura, food nutritional services director of the Hopkins School District. “”Because, aside from obesity, we’re also trying to address things like behavior disorders and allergies.”

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