Funding School Garden Programs for long term success.

By Jeffery Raska, Program Assistant, 4-H Youth Development, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Dallas County

Many times, I am asked by school groups at the initial planning meeting, “Can I do this or can we build that’’ and my answer is always the same, sure we can ‘’ it only takes money and knowhow!!”

Man preparing raised garden beds with students

Jeff working with kids from DISD on building their raised beds.

I am amazed that some of the best initially funded schools obtain funding to start a garden, but do not have an ongoing budget planned to sustain the garden. Gardens do COST money to build and they TAKE money to sustain long term. Initial startup cost obviously varies with the ambition of the school’s Garden Committee but usually annual maintenance budgets do not vary a great deal once a program is in place and the garden is flourishing. This means you can cost out the startup build within your grant or funding sources and then you must plan a funding stream from a variety of sources to maintain yearly maintenance and plantings.

The garden program can only grow and evolve if funding can be secured year to year. Remember the fluidity of a school environment and the garden program may have to be passed to other hands as teachers change, kids and parents move on and Administers are transferred. Nothing will doom a garden transition faster than one set of committee members passing the program to a new set without established sustainable funding. You will need to think about water cost, soil amendments, transplants and seeds and any improvements or fix its(broken stuff due to over excited kiddos) and don’t forget the school garden curriculum (such as Learn Grow Eat Go) and the new lesson enrichments you might want to purchase as the program grows . I know an individual’s ‘well’ can run a little dry at times so I always suggest multiple sources so the garden program won’t wilt out, or you as the individual don’t burn out as well.

Sustainable funding sources can include the Parent Associations, local garden retailers, your local big box stores, anyone that sells a plant or plant supplies and food venders (grocery or markets). I have even had a school I helped build their garden, go to one of their neighborhood restaurants and worked out a deal that the school would provide a little produce and the restaurant would give the school 10% of their Wednesday sales. The restaurant gets advertising for supporting the school and the school has one of their funding partners in place for the future. Funding sources are only limited to the imaginations of the garden committee members and the saying it true “You don’t get if you don’t ask’’.

Schools can cut annual costs by establishing a composting program, rainwater collection systems, seed saving to grow their own transplants and raise funds by selling their excess produce but these take several seasons to establish as the garden grows and matures. The first couple of years are critical to lay down the foundation for a sustainable garden program and the constant burden of always being short of money can frustrate everyone involved to just give up on what could have been a wonderful outdoor classroom for learning.

If you haven’t checked any of these groups out, here are a few funding sources.

The Good Seed: Grow a Youth Garden with a Grant From Home Depot

Community Garden Grant Opportunities

Garden Grants from GardenABCs

Grants | growing safer gardens

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