By Anne Harding

(Reuters Health) – Lack of time and staff support are the two biggest barriers to school garden success, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

“The physical space itself doesn’t seem to be the problem,” Dr. Kate G. Burt of the City University of New York in The Bronx, who led the study, told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.

Across the US, 44 percent of schools reported growing edible gardens during the 2013-2014 school year, up from 31 percent in 2011-2012, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s most recent data. Over the same period, the number of school gardens rose from 2,401 to 7,101.

School gardens have been shown to help students eat more fruits and veggies, be more active and do better in math and science, to name just a few of their benefits. But for a school garden to succeed, it must be well-integrated, meaning it “fosters meaningful educational experiences for students, and is valued as part of the school’s culture,” Dr. Burt and her team note in their September 25 report.

To better understand why some gardens flourish and others fail, the researchers surveyed 99 school gardeners from 15 states, asking them to rank five barriers to success.

Time and staffing were the top two, followed by funding, curriculum and space.

About 66 percent of the school gardeners cited “time for all classes to use the garden” as a challenge, and 62 percent named “time to train staff and faculty about gardening.” Staffing-related challenges included having too few volunteers, cited by 65 percent, and “teacher-faculty disinterest,” by 60 percent. Overall lack of funding was a challenge for 55 percent of the school gardeners, while 35 percent said they did not know how to obtain funds.

When asked how they would spend additional funding, 54 percent said infrastructure such as raised beds and tool storage; 28 percent said hiring and training more support staff to maintain the garden; 20 percent said program expansion and 19 percent would put it toward tools and materials.

Based on the responses, the authors propose three approaches to addressing time- and staff-related issues: strengthening garden committees, incorporating gardening into teachers’ professional development, and community outreach.

Tackling time and staffing challenges – for example by offering a stipend to participating teachers and incorporating school gardens into teachers’ professional development – would do more to help school gardens flourish, Burt suggests.

“So much money is going into school gardens that if we don’t identify the additional resources and support that are needed then we won’t achieve the success that everyone hoped as school gardens have surged,” she said.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, online September 25, 2018.