Our mission? A garden in every New York City public school.

Grow to Learn NYC: The Citywide School Garden Initiative was established by The Mayor's Fund and GrowNYC to inspire, facilitate and promote the creation of a sustainable school garden in each and every public school across New York City.

A big goal, yes. But fortunately we have an equally ambitious plan and partners to help achieve it.  Together with The Mayor's Fund to Advance NYC, GrowNYC, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation's GreenThumb division, and Department of Education's Office of SchoolFood, Grow to Learn provides funding, materials, technical help, and resources for NYC public and charter schools to establish and expand learning garden programs.  This assistance will take the form of everything from downloadable how-to guides, to grants and gardening supplies, to having questions answered directly by our gardening experts. By pooling best practices, this Citywide School Garden Initiative will ensure that every public school has access to the information and support needed to create and maintain a successful garden. Let the digging and the learning begin!

Why School Gardens Are So Important

Research shows -- and common observation tells us -- that children today are increasingly disconnected from the natural world.  This is happening at great cost to their development and to the health and future of our environment.

Nowhere is this concern more sharply felt than in urban areas like New York City.  Despite the city’s parkland and open space, many school children have few chances to connect to the natural world on a regular basis. Schoolyards are often fenced in and asphalt covered.  New York City kids may be savvy enough to know all the stops on the A train, but many are unable to identify exactly where their food comes from. Additionally, the city’s young people are suffering from double-digit obesity and diabetes rates due to poor nutrition and lack of physical activity. 

Sobering realizations -- but there is much we can do to reverse these trends.  There is a growing body of research that shows that exposure to nature is essential for children’s intellectual and emotional growth.  Schoolyards that feature natural areas foster increased knowledge retention, creativity and academic achievement in youth, while at the same time decreasing schoolyard hostility and bullying.

The NYC public education system includes 1,600 schools and 1.1 million students, yet only about 300 school gardens. Many schools would like to build a garden but don’t have the time, resources or understanding of the complex process required to create and maintain one.  Even once the garden is in place, they may not have a plan for long-term maintenance e.g., summertime care and upkeep.  Or the funds to put such a plan in place.  And that is exactly where Grow to Learn NYC can help.  By making sustainable school gardens possible through help on every level -- from creation to maintenance to implementing educational programs.

How Kids Can Really Grow In a School Garden

• There is an increasing link between school garden participation and improved test scores. Not surprising as school gardens teach concepts like seasonality, soil and water health, invertebrate life, ecosystems, climate change and more.

•  School gardens demand good, old-fashioned physical activity -- in fact, hands-on gardening burns an average 300 calories per hour.

•  School garden encourages environmental stewardship by connecting young people with the earth and allowing them to observe nature’s cycles first hand.  The school gardeners of today are the envirnomentalists of tomorrow.  

•  School gardens can combat unhealthy eating habits, as children are more likely to try unfamiliar produce and eat fruits and vegetables if they grow them themselves.

•  School gardens offer truly equal-opportunity educational advantages – students with a variety of behavioral and cognitive disabilities respond positively to gardening programs.