Our Impact

School-based Garden Programs Work! HFHK is more than radishes, turnips, and arugula. HFHK is about a healthier future for today’s kids. HFHK’s Education Cultivation Program is designed to assist schools in delivering curriculum that impacts three critical areas: nutrition and health, science learning, and life skills. Because our HFHK students participate in the school garden over several years and growing seasons, they can grow in their understanding of gardening science as well as their love of vegetables.We’ve seen these students progress from a spot where these vegetables are new and novel to them to a place where they are willing to experiment both in the garden and in the kitchen.

At HFHK, we’ve found that students….

…are willing to eat the vegetables that they grow….even radishes, turnips and kale! Student surveys at multiple schools show that students are willing to eat the vegetables that they grow. At Springer Middle School, 96% of the students that grew radishes in the garden actually tasted them.

…think vegetables are delicious! Students at Serviam Girls Academy found this to be especially true when the vegetables were prepared in creative ways. To read more about their journey in their first year of gardening, click here.

...are excited to harvest their vegetables at the end of the season and try delicious new recipes. The students at Shortlidge harvested their vegetables and prepared delicious recipes which they were very excited to try.

…will even ask their parents to buy or grow more vegetables at home. Ian’s class grew radishes in their school garden, and then tasted them in the cafeteria. Ian had never had a radish before, and discovered he loved them! He loved them so much, he started growing them at home.

Ian with the radishes that he grew at home.

At HFHK, our students and teachers believe that the garden is a catalyst for student learning.

“I believe school garden learning programs are an important and powerful curriculum tool for today’s students. … When schools partner with a strong organization such as Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids, the result is undeniable: powerful learning for children through a real-life lens and local action. “

Wendy Turner, Mt Pleasant Elementary, 2017 Delaware Teacher of the Year and 2016 recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

“The garden provides my students with experiences no textbook, videos, or curriculum lesson can provide. Students are learning what it takes for a seed to grow, how the weather system will affect the growth of the plants, and how to plot and graph plant growth. The garden has served as a living laboratory that provides a real-world context for lessons across subject areas.”

Diane Mahotiere, STEM teacher, Shortlidge Academy

“This makes you feel like you can experiment. I will have a garden when I am older. I can experiment more and be a scientist”

Marshall Elementary School 5th grade student

Just how much produce can a school garden produce?

In the Spring of 2019 students from Odyssey Charter School harvested a total of 306.10 pounds of crops from 24 raised beds! That’s over 12.5 pounds per bed. Check out the graph below to see their crop yields.

Independent research studies agree with HFHK’s findings.

This startling quote published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlights the importance of a healthy diet:  “More Americans are sick than are healthy, largely from rising diet-related illnesses.  These conditions create tremendous strains on productivity, health care costs, health disparities, government budgets, US economic competitiveness and military readiness.” (Fleischhacker et al., 2020).

In 2016-17 Delaware had the 16th highest obesity rate for youth ages 10 to 17, according to The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) 2018 State of Obesity Report.  Obesity-related health spending continues to climb in the state, and by 2030 is projected to exceed 1.8 billion per year (RWJF Issue Brief:  Bending the Obesity Cost Curve in Delaware).  

Can eating more vegetables make a difference?  The answer is yes!  A systematic review of cohort studies found that increased vegetable consumption is correlated with reduced risk of overweight or obesity (Nour et al., 2018).   Can vegetable gardening inspire children to eat more vegetables?  Again the answer is yes!  In 2012, Langellotto and Gupta conducted a meta-analysis of studies that examined the impact of gardening on children.  They conclude:  “Gardening increased vegetable consumption in children, whereas the impact of nutrition education programs were marginal or nonsignificant.”  Furthermore, a 2012 study by Meinen et al. looked at the impact on elementary students of Wisconsin’s “Got Dirt?” program;  a gardening curriculum which does not include formal nutrition education.  Pre- and post-testing revealed a significant increase in children choosing vegetables over candy/chips, tasting new vegetables, and consumption of fruit and vegetables.  

Many of the gardening programs that have been evaluated in the literature require large inputs of resources, and are not practical for public schools.  As a result, they generally do not reach a large number of children. HFHK’s goal has been to provide the benefits of gardening through a low-cost, practical program that can be implemented in most Delaware schools.  HFHK students typically participate in as few as two to four  hands-on garden lessons per school year, and eat the vegetables they have grown in the school cafeteria as few as four times per year.  We asked the question whether this level of gardening experience results in a significant impact.    Research conducted by HFHK using cafeteria observations and/or pre- and post-surveys for HFHK program schools showed that even one or two hands-on experiences in the school garden resulted in students trying new vegetables if they had grown them themselves and learning new science concepts (HFHK unpublished studies 2010-11 and 2013-15) .  Control schools in these studies did not exhibit changes in trying new vegetables or in science learning, indicating that the effects were due to HFHK’s programming.  Furthermore, students in the HFHK program were more likely to take and eat a salad if it was grown in the garden than if it was not (Cotugna et al, 2012).


Fleischhacker, S.E. et al., 2020.  Strengthening national nutrition research: rationale and options for a new coordinated federal research effort and authority, Am J Clin Nutr, 00: 1-49.

Nour, M., Lutze, S.A., Grech, A, Allman-Farinelli, M., 2018.  The Relationship between Vegetable Intake and Weight Outcomes: A Systematic Review of Cohort Studies, Nutrients. Nov; 10(11): 1626. 

Langellotto, G.A. and Gupta, A., 2012.  Gardening Increases Vegetable Consumption in School-aged Children: A Meta-analytical Synthesis. HortTechnology, 22(4): 430-445.

Meinen, A., Friese, B., Wright, W. & Carrel, A. 2012. Youth gardens increase healthybehaviors in young children. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 7(2-3), 192-204. doi:10.1080/19320248.2012.704662

Cotugna, N, Manning, C, & DiDomenico, J. 2012.  Impact of the use of produce grown in an elementary school garden on consumption of vegetables at school lunch.   J Hunger Environ Nutr.   7:11-19.

For more literature and information on the impact of school gardens, see the National Farm to School Network’s fact sheet:   http://www.farmtoschool.org/Resources/BenefitsFactSheet.pdf

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