Captain Planet Foundation’s Project Learning Garden
The second grader was not impressed. The previous fall, his elementary school had become a Project Learning Garden school with the Captain Planet Foundation, and all winter he and his classmates had watched the tops of root vegetables grow. Random, bushy, green things that were not interesting in the least. Now it was spring, and his teacher was insisting that they pull on those green things for a “harvest.” So, being a good student, he bent down, grabbed a handful, and pulled. Suddenly, his hand held a carrot. He spun around wide-eyed and exclaimed, “Wait… we can grow GROCERY STORE FOOD?!”
He is just one of thousands of students across Atlanta who now garden at school thanks to the Captain Planet Foundation. Back in 2012, the now 27-year-old foundation launched Project Learning Garden in just nine pilot schools in Cobb County. They realized quickly that it was a winner. Teachers were thrilled at how engaged their students became during hands-on learning lessons that took ideas from the classroom and brought them to life in the garden. And parents, who had said that their children viewed salad as “my enemy,” watched in amazement as their kids chowed down on fresh garden vegetables.
“Our on-campus gardens encourage teachers to take project-based learning outside, including in subjects like math, science, language arts and social studies,” says Leesa Carter, CEO of the Atlanta-based foundation. “Students have an amazing sense of accomplishment when they plant a seed and watch it grow. It’s a small miracle that happens millions of times a day across the globe, but in urban areas, we’ve lost much of our connection to nature and natural systems. School gardens help bring that back.”
Captain Planet Foundation set a goal to have Project Learning Garden in 500 elementary and middle schools across metro Atlanta by 2020. So far, they are in 275 schools, including four of the six elementary schools in Dunwoody (Austin, Chestnut Charter, Dunwoody and Vanderlyn); and in one of the seven elementary schools in Sandy Springs (Heards Ferry). But they’d like to be in every single school! Any teacher or principal is welcome to contact the Foundation at CaptainPlanetFoundation.org or 404-522-4215 to learn more.
In addition to the physical raised bed gardens, schools also receive a mobile cooking cart (with a Vitamix!), a garden exploration kit, lesson supply kits, standards-based lessons across multiple subjects, teacher professional development and support during the summer months when school is out of session.
“The summer months are the biggest for growing, but schools are out of session,” explains Project Learning Garden Manager Tasha Gomes. “So we’ve partnered with the Arthur M. Blank Foundation and the Atlanta Community Food Bank to solve that issue while supporting both the schools and their communities. For three months, we pay stipends to young urban gardeners who each manage 10-12 schools during the summer. Over the past four summers, we’ve donated close to 10,000 pounds of fresh garden produce to the Food Bank and its pantries around the city!”
Project Learning Garden was built for rapid scaling with a cost of only $3,000 per school. Atlanta-area partners like the James M. Cox Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Kendeda Fund, UPS, and Vasser Woolley Foundation; along with national companies like Dole Packaged Foods, Publix, Sprouts, Wells Fargo and Whole Foods have been instrumental in helping Project Learning Garden grow so quickly. Local businesses in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs are encouraged to adopt a school so that every child in the community is growing strong!