Kids Growing: Implementing School-Community Gardens in Ontario
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Cultivating land surrounding schools provides opportunities for children and youth to experience growing, tasting and preparing fresh food. This creates openings for deeper understanding of environmental and social sustainability and can transform early learning. The literature supports evidence of a variety of social and educational benefits of school gardens. School gardens are recommended in policy frameworks but are not actually supported in practice in the province of Ontario, Canada. This paper reviews gaps between policy and practice. Using Social Cognitive Theory, this paper contributes to the discussion of benefits to students and to teachers, and barriers to implementation of school gardens. It is situated in wider discussions about food literacy and environmental literacy in school-based interventions. In the comparative case study, teachers in two schools discuss the benefits of school gardens and barriers relating to implementation. Teachers' attitudes are compared with the literature. Teachers in one of the two schools have the assistance of a community-based non-profit partner helping to create, maintain and support teaching in the school garden. Teacher attitudes towards policy and practice in each school are examined in a collaborative inquiry, with the researcher as participant through founding the community-based group. The paper concludes that school food gardens can be pivotal to the practice of a rich, multilayered and transformative pedagogy in the face of climate change, economic polarization and urbanization. If education for sustainability is to have more traction in Ontario, the means must be fostered by a more universal and intentional approach from a young age. School gardens present an opportunity to realize benefits for the whole community across intersecting indicators: health, including physical and mental health, sustainability education and authentic academic learning. However, to more adequately and equitably realize their benefits, efforts to bridge gaps in training and resources must be stepped up. This paper intends to support policymaking regarding school gardens, by examining the conditions required for success. Recommendations for pathways to implementation are included in the Efficiency-Substitution-Redesign matrix.