School Gardens: Rejected for Ridiculous Reasons

Posted on Oct 27 2010 - 3:53am by Mike Lieberman

Susan Reimer wrote a piece on the Garden Variety blog of the Baltimore Sun about the objections that people have when it comes to school gardens. I’m pretty sure that the mentions were specific to the Chicago area.

In my humble opinion the reasons that people gave were ridiculous.

Before we get to the reasons I want to express my beef with the fact that the food grown in the school gardens can’t be used in the cafeteria’s to feed the kids. According to the article:

Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune describes the garden bounty grown by Chicago public school children, and reports that school system rules — which do not apply to the commercial food suppliers — prohibit any of that food from making it into the school cafeteria.

C’mon. Seriously? They can’t be served the food that they grow, but they can eat the stuff that’s pawned off as food everyday?


Am I missing something here? What kind of message does this send to the kids? You can grow your own food, but don’t eat it. That would be bad. WTF?!?

Sending the Wrong Cultural Messages
Now on to the objections for having the school gardens. The first were cultural objections. Yes, cultural objections.

People thought that since some of the kids were minorities that it might send the wrong message. The reason is that they could’ve come from a background of farm workers or slaves.

Ok, what’s wrong with this? Knowing how to tend to the land and grow our own food is one of the most important things that we can possibly do. Yet we see it as unskilled labor. This is how far disconnected we have become from our food.

You know what sends the wrong message? Being a banker or someone in the financial field and screwing someone out of their money. That’s the wrong message.

Time Is Better Spent on Real Education
The final objection was that time could be better spent on education like math and reading. First off you need math and reading to grow your food. You also need to use critical thinking skills.

What is so great about the curriculum of the current education system? Unless you are an engineer or physicist who really needs to know what sine, cosine and tangent are? They are freaking useless.

Learning how to grow your own food, now that is knowledge. It allows us to be independent and not rely on others. Instead education teaches us how to rely on others and to become consumers.

By the way isn’t the school year based on the agricultural calendar? Kids have off during the summer to tend to and harvest crops? What’s happened to that?

Yet again schools show us how they are hypocrites when it comes to educating the kids about food and nutrition.


Updated on November 30, 2010: Robert Bloomer, regional vice president, Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality, Chicago responded to this post in Letters to the editor. Read his reason here.

41 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. anotherkindofdrew October 27, 2010 at 12:09 pm -

    I live in rural, middle Georgia. Our school system does not even have anything like a gardening program or even health courses for students. I can remember learning a little about the food pyramid in middle school. But from what I read lately, we can’t even agree on what a logical food pyramid is. We should have seen such hypocrisy as this coming.

    I think the real issue here is the gov’t. Uncle Sam doesn’t want to live off his radar or to quit depending on him. If we taught students to raise their own food and to eat what is good for them then they wouldn’t have to rely much on the gov’t when times got tough and money was low. They wouldn’t need so many handout programs because they would be knowledgeable of growing their own food and eating things that most people refer to as “weeds” or “dirty plants.”

    Our school systems are becoming miniature breeding grounds for fat, mindless, unmotivated, gov’t leeches. We HAVE to break this cycle. I never thought I would live in a country where growing your own food and passing on agricultural tradition would make you rogue!

  2. Mike Lieberman October 27, 2010 at 1:32 pm -

    Word. The education system teaches independence and consumption. Not interdependence and production.

  3. Scissors & Drumsticks October 27, 2010 at 4:16 pm -

    Here in Va. Beach, VA, our schools have “family nights” which consist of sending home a coupon to one of our local restaurants. We’re all about supporting local business, “God bless the little man” is great and all, but when the school administrators are at the brunt of dosing our kids with crap, there’s something wrong with this picture. Our kids get a little down when we say we’re not going. I just can’t $45.00 for ONE family dinner that came from God knows where? Jeez, that’s more than 50% our weekly grocery bill. There are so many mixed messages as you so fluently stated Mr. Lieberman.

    As for the governmental backbone in this, of course they’re cutting it off at the head. Why not? We are not our children’s parents any longer. We’re just the breeding ground for tax dollars, only for our kids to be ripped away from us when we don’t conform to such ridiculous laws and ruling. Send our kids to college to become a hundred thousand-aire or allow them to do what is necessary for human life? Which holds more water during the tax season?

    It’s ridiculous I agree. We must start in our own homes and communities. We must. A virus starts with one person and passed onto another. No “virus bomb” was dropped and infected a flock of folks all at once. We should do the same with this. Infect one at a time, and allow them to do the same.

  4. Anonymous October 27, 2010 at 4:44 pm -

    Others have hit the government control angle already so I’ll go with the part that struck me. I just love that bit about minorities being offended. I’m living in a farming community where most of the non minority kids come from a family that is somehow connected to agriculture, or was at some point in the past. They feel no stigma. Most white families here at least grow a few tomato plants every year, and many have larger gardens. Even if the last farmer was 4 generations ago and they are all professionals and trades people now. They feel no stigma about the past.

    I’m not a native here. I was born and raised in another place where people came from other countries far away to work in OUR agricultural industry doing menial labor and THEY FELT NO STIGMA about it. They were proud to be doing something to improve their and their family’s lives.

    Sounds like a Chicago big city problem to me. Have you run into any of these problems in the California schools you’ve been working with?

  5. Mike Lieberman October 27, 2010 at 5:32 pm -

    I’ve only worked with one school and the kids and parents love it. The stigma thing is ridiculous and just an excuse.

  6. Mike Lieberman October 27, 2010 at 5:32 pm -

    Yup gotta lead by example. Show others what’s up.

  7. Richsgoodfood October 27, 2010 at 5:35 pm -

    In my opinion, they are worried that if the kids know what real food tastes like, they wont eat the ummm “stuff” (politest word I could think of) they have been feeding them. Then all the greedy food supplier/contractors will lose money, when they have to supply real food at the contract prices.
    But to not be allowed to eat the food they grew ?? That is beyond mental.

  8. MariahCharbonneau October 27, 2010 at 5:54 pm -

    I think one way to overcome the “issues” is to find ONE teacher within the school system who sees the value in school gardening – the first step is to GET IT GROWING. I work with the middle school science teacher here locally. We started last year with two 4×8 raised beds – all of the materials, seeds, etc. were donated, and many came from our local county extension office. The kids LOVE tending the garden, and created a composting program that they monitor and help other kids with during the lunch hour, and he (the teacher) designs certain lesson plans around the garden. The excitement shown by the kids is starting to infect other teachers and kids – they’re now raising money for a greenhouse, and the other teachers are talking about lessons they could teach using the gardens. The science teacher knew there was no funding available, and instead of approaching the administration for it, he asked, instead, if he could install the gardens so long as there was no cost to the school to do it. Removing the funding as a potential issue, and showing them what he intended to teach using the gardens, he easily convinced the administration to give the green light. Granted, not much is produced in two 4×8 beds, but each year it will grow a little. We attended the Farm to School conference with the school principal, the lunch lady, me as a parent representative, the science teacher, and a student representative in the spring and were pleased to see the reactions of the principal and lunch lady because both were very skeptical before we went about ways we can start to incorporate local produce and even school-grown produce into the cafeteria. All in all, it has been a great experience thus far – my advice is just to start small, and let the joy spread – eventually enough of the staff and students catch it that it starts to propel itself. Also, as more schools start to successfully incorporate good local (or school grown) food into the daily lunch menu, schools like those in Chicago will have less of a leg to stand on regarding their ridiculous objections.

  9. Tiffany October 27, 2010 at 6:03 pm -

    I live in Chicago and have seen a few lovely gardens at the schools here. The Chicago Public school system has MANY issues which stem from problems caused by the local government and underfunding. It’s really tragic, but I’m not surprised they won’t allow the children to eat the food they grow. Most of the schools don’t even allow the children to bring their own lunch. Hopefully there will soon be big changes in terms of CPS and the education the students receive after the elections this fall and spring.

    Besides that, I wish gardening could be a part of more school curriculums. My parents always had a garden, so I was fortunate to learn about growing our own food and such, but that was never part of school. Even when we were learning about plants in science classes we didn’t grow anything, and that seems like the perfect opportunity. Instead we colored worksheets that showed the parts of plants. Ridiculous.

  10. Mike Lieberman October 27, 2010 at 8:06 pm -

    The whole system is archaic and needs a huge overhaul.

  11. Mike Lieberman October 27, 2010 at 8:08 pm -

    That’s awesome. Good for you girl.

    Definitely needs to start small and let the snowball effect happen. I think we often ai too big and try to tackle too much at once.

    Like your approach.

  12. Mike Lieberman October 27, 2010 at 8:09 pm -

    The system in and of itself is mental.

  13. inept balcony gardener October 27, 2010 at 9:27 pm -

    Wow that is a scary list of objections to something that has so many benefits. Hopefully sanity wins out in the end. We have the kitchen/garden program here in Melbourne, Australia, originally set up by famous culinary idol, Stephanie Alexander, and it is spreading out through Australia because it is so popular. It is a program where the kids grow, cook and eat the produce. It is an amazing program which has so many benefits and is mostly run by volunteers. My cousin volunteers at her local school, and she sees the joy and the knowledge kids get from this. Given that cooking and gardening are not skills taught readily in the home anymore from ‘time-poor’ parents the program is invaluable. It seems to be mostly well supported here, but maybe the Masterchef show craze has something to do with its popularity. Such a shame that naysayers try to get in the way on the other wise of the world.

  14. Mike Lieberman October 27, 2010 at 10:48 pm -

    yes all very unfortunate that profits and big business always wins.

  15. Melissa Jacobs October 28, 2010 at 2:14 am -

    This makes me very very very VERY MAD!

    You know how I’m getting around it, Mike?

    We’ve got that little bit of acreage where we’re gonna have goats, sheep, chickens, rabbits, pigs and a HUGE garden, right? It’s tiny, butdo-able.

    Well, I’m going into the schools with the demonstration bucket — “grow some of your own food”, “here’s some samples and yes you can take your very own bucket home” blah, blah — you know the message we’re all trying to get out….

    BUT…..with each bucket ALSO goes home an invitation to my SUMMER CAMP, and/or SPRING BREAK WEEK CAMP…….to let the kids come out and actually help in the earth garden and to let them see the livestock and help with that.

    Whaddya think? I’m really interested in your feedback on this. You’ve become my guru. So speak to me oh wise one……LOL.

  16. Mike Lieberman October 28, 2010 at 4:05 am -

    Great concept, but what’s in it for them? I could also see people saying that you are just using kids as cheap labor to work your garden. Need to figure out what the benefits for them are. Love the idea though.

  17. Judi Rich October 29, 2010 at 12:45 am -

    It is unfortunate that the students can not reap the benefits of their labor. I was just speaking to a master gardener last weekend who teaches gardening to high school students (juniors and seniors only) here in Flagler County (FL). I spoke to him about my son’s 7th grade agriculture class and how he hates it because they don’t have much hands-on experience. He gave me a starter kit to give him and offered to let him grow the plants in his garden until I get mine set up.
    He mentioned that all the produce is donated to charity (i.e., local soup kitchens) and I thought “how great is that?” I didn’t even think to ask if the students were “allowed” to eat what they harvest? Great question to ask the next time I meet with him.
    Thanks for sharing!

  18. Mike Lieberman October 29, 2010 at 1:36 pm -

    In terms of serving the food in the cafeteria think it has something to do with certifications and the such.

  19. KRR October 29, 2010 at 6:05 pm -

    hey mike what they are trying to teach the kids with these objections is 1.MacroEconomics- its ok to eat unhealthy fast food because if you get fat off the hamburgers at mcdonalds you always sue them and then go and use the money on weight loss drugs. See? mcdonalds the lawyers thejudge and drug comppany get paid thats economic 2 biz. ethics -you can do all the hardwork you want but youll never reap the benefits 3 morality, why do all the work when you can go downto the corner and grab some pizza and beer just like your father did(no not specifically your father mike im talking in general) 4gov’t and law- there are always laws and govt entities that have rules and regulations to keep you from being independant so that you have to pay taxes out the “”” wahoo 5history- yes in the past students got off for farming oh and fall break was for fall harvest …im sure the curriculum goes on but i cant so anyone else wants to add on go for it

  20. Mike Lieberman October 30, 2010 at 12:19 am -

    Hahaha. Couldn’t have said it any better. That’s the education system.

  21. Amelcapastores November 18, 2010 at 3:52 pm -

    We should encourage children’s natural interest in nature. See them enjoy celebrate the joy of planting.

  22. artificial grass November 18, 2010 at 3:52 pm -


  23. Mike Lieberman November 18, 2010 at 4:15 pm -


  24. Paperwhitetulip November 24, 2010 at 4:46 pm -

    perhaps if they started a mini cooking class and show the is what you can do with the food you grow from the garden… too many issues with “kitchen staff” and the required rules they have to follow~ Don’t mess w/kitchen staff 😉 they work hard enough already…Thank G-d dat u can’t grow sodas (LOL) from a garden “wink”~

  25. Mike Lieberman November 26, 2010 at 5:33 pm -

    Yes luckily you can’t grow sodas.

  26. Sherrygreens January 13, 2011 at 5:50 am -

    This is shocking and sad. How is growing some carrots and then washing them well and eating them bad? There is a way, the school authorities are just living in their bubble and have not opened their minds to the idea. Continued public pressure will do the trick. I love what you are doing and want to read more!! My son will be starting kindergarten next year and I am going to write letters to the school board and the principal that a permaculture program be incorporated. I brought home some herbs plants last night for a window garden and my 5 year old son was so excited, he wanted to keep watering them and wanted to choose what window they would go in… It warmed my heart.

  27. Mike Lieberman January 13, 2011 at 2:56 pm -

    That is awesome Sherry. Speaking up and voicing your opinion is definitely one way to be heard. Love the story about your son.

  28. Hydroponics Pest Control April 9, 2011 at 8:55 am -

    We live in a town with an independent charter public school district. Every elementary school (4) has its own garden area, and until a few years ago they were kept up and used by the students. After all of the budget cuts and increase in state testing, though, the gardens have been locked up and are no longer utilized by the teachers or students. When my children started school a few years ago I approached those in charge at each school about volunteering to reopen them, and I was turned down by everyone. They said that they didn’t want the children in there, no one “had the time”, the teachers simply couldn’t be bothered with all of the new regulations and academic requirements. The latest principal I talked to at my children’s current school thought it was a “nice idea”, but didn’t believe it was “realistic” or “necessary”. IMO, learning the skill of gardening is going to help the children in their lives alot more than many other activities and subjects that are considered “necessary”. Any school that incorporates it into their program deserves to be praised and supported.

  29. Mike Lieberman April 9, 2011 at 5:41 pm -

    It’s sad what goes on with our education system. Good for you for stepping up to volunteer.

  30. Maymers April 27, 2011 at 2:06 pm -

    There is hope! Yesterday while taking the dog for his morning walk I saw two raised beds that were just built in the schoolyard near my home here in Dorchester, MA. I’m really excited to see what they make of it. I grew up in a farming community out West where the school calendar went a bit further and allowed students to take a break in the fall to help work during harvest. Needless to say working with plants and nature definitely helped us bumpkins do considerably well in science and math as well as physical education. To this day candy/packaged sweets just can’t compete with sugar snap peas picked off the vine!

    I’d really be interested to see what sort of deviations there would be between schools/communities that teach children how to grow and appreciate their own food and those that don’t in relation to kids taking prescription medications for behavioral or learning disabilities (ADHD, etc.).

  31. Mike Lieberman April 29, 2011 at 3:13 pm -

    That would be a great study.

  32. Mike Lieberman April 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm -

    Good for you. Keep up the great work and forward thinking!

  33. gaste April 30, 2011 at 5:31 am -

    In the Berkeley (CA) Unified School District, I was actually very pleasantly surprised to find that the kids not only grew their own food, but had a kitchen and time in the kitchen during which they learned to prepare vegetarian meals with the items they had harvested from the garden. The schools also do a great job of integrating math and science as well as history, etc, etc, into these lessons. Having taught special ed math some years ago, I knew that a lot of kids did better with tangibles — e.g., learning how to add fractions came much easier in wood shop than in math class. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the schools across the district had put such thought into the lessons to be learned in the garden and in the kitchen.

  34. Mike Lieberman May 1, 2011 at 4:48 pm -

    That is awesome. Good for them. Wish more schools were like that.

  35. Jennifer Peterson August 19, 2011 at 12:39 am -

    We tried to start a school garden.  We also wanted to teach the students about composting.  The health department representative for our area came to one of our meetings and told us it would be against health code regulations to have our own garden and compost bins.  Even if the compost bins were going to be 1000s of feet from the school. 

  36. Laurie August 19, 2011 at 1:20 am -

    What is the world coming to? The fear mongers just want to have a hand in everything that goes on in the world. They are afraid of the people becoming free. Free to eat good food and be happy and take care of themselves! 

    I live in rural Ontario, Canada and it is tough to even get a community garden going here. Even in a town where, they claim to be an, agriculturally based society.  A proposal went up to town council to start a botanical food garden and was rejected because it was going to be in an area where they host an annual horse show?!?! The high school teaches an agriculture course, but only conventional methods. It is sometimes hard to believe that anything will change.

    They believe they are educating our children, but what are they teaching them??? What to wear, how to follow, definitely not to think or to be part of the natural world. We are sending our daughter to school in September for the first time and it was a difficult and sad decision.

    However, on a positive note, they do have a tiny (albeit productive) garden at the elementary school!

  37. Mike Lieberman August 22, 2011 at 1:16 am -

    The things that get by and are actually enforced in our society are baffling.

  38. Mike Lieberman August 22, 2011 at 1:18 am -

    Very well said. The fear mongering is out of control

  39. Melissa ONeil April 11, 2012 at 4:38 am -

    The reasons they give for so many things is crazy but these are just plain nuts. 

  40. Mike Lieberman April 11, 2012 at 7:53 am -

    Crazy. Ain’t it?!!?

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