Building School Gardens In Las Vegas
In January 2017, Green Our Planet reached a new milestone: it built it’s 100th school garden. And since January, the local organization that began in Las Vegas in 2013 has built nine more school gardens. By the end of May, Green Our Planet will be running the largest school garden program in the United States, smack in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
“We began in 2013 with the idea of trying to launch a city-wide school garden movement,” said Ciara Byrne, Co-Director of Green Our Planet. “But at the time, we had no idea whatsoever if that would be possible or not. I think the movement has definitely taken off,” she said, “but only because a large number of teachers, principals, parents, students, corporations, sponsors, partners, volunteers, and the community has come together to make it happen.”
According to Cheryl Wagner, Coordinator at the Clark County School District Partnership Office, there are approximately 150 school gardens now in the CCSD, a few of which have been around for as long as twenty years. Still, with a district that continues to expand and with nearly 370 public schools, there continues to be room for the school garden movement to grow.
“At any given time, we have a waiting list of 50-60 schools that would like to have school gardens,” Byrne says. “That demand is keeping us very busy!”
Managing School Gardens
Before Byrne and her Co-founder and Co-director, Kim MacQuarrie, launched their school gardens program in 2013, they first researched other successful school gardens programs in the U.S. “What we found the best ones had in common,” said Byrne, “is that they made sure that schools had garden teams composed of teachers before the school gardens were built.” Once the team of teachers was formed, Green Our Planet then assigned a Green Our Planet coordinator to attend their monthly meetings. “The garden teams and our coordinators have been the key to our program getting “lift off” in the city,” Byrne said. “Attempts at creating school gardens in Las Vegas before that had largely failed, because usually only one teacher spearheaded the effort and if he or she got tired of it, or transferred, or retired–then the school gardens collapsed.”
Green Our Planet made other innovations as they developed what they call their “Outdoor Garden Classroom Program,” such as student-run farmers markets, a chef to school program (where chefs do cooking demonstrations for students with produce from their gardens), an 800-page, garden-based STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum, and teacher training. “We offer lots of teacher training sessions every year,” Byrne said. “Because most teachers never received training in how to teach students outside. They are very popular.”