The CitySprouts mission is to develop, implement and maintain beautiful, resource-rich school gardens in collaboration with public school communities. Integrated into the curriculum, CitySprouts gardens inspire teachers, students, and families with a deep, hands-on connection to the food cycle, sustainable agriculture, and the natural environment.
Our story begins in 2001, when a small group of parents, a teacher and a school principal formed a school garden program called CitySprouts in two Cambridge schools. They were motivated by a shared concern about children growing up hungry for hands-on learning, ignorant of where their food comes from and with too few opportunities to really know their natural environment.
CitySprouts gardens in urban, high-need schools grow food as well as perennial flowers. They are natural habitats and support environmental systems like composting and water catchment. They are places for children to explore nature, including their food system. And through all of this, the school garden engages children in learning.
CitySprouts took root at a time when the school garden movement was largely driven by pioneering parents and teachers determined to introduce school gardens into schools. CitySprouts’ founders were inspired by these examples and at the same time wanted to extend the school garden experience to children in schools that may not have these same resources. Our approach was to convince teachers and their school principals of the significant connections between hands-on, garden-based learning and young students’ mastery of skills. Relying on a growing body of evidence, CitySprouts framed garden-based learning as a means to achieve mastery of basic skills and knowledge in science, math, writing and social studies. This has remained a cornerstone of the CitySprouts model: supporting and engaging teachers’ use of the school garden for their students.
At the same time, CitySprouts intended to give children a hands-on experience with food ‘from seed to compost.’ Edible learning gardens introduce children to vegetables, fruits and herbs to create a tasting culture with the potential to positively change children’s food choices. In an era of increasing disease caused by poor diet, especially for children in under-resourced communities, school gardens are an effective means to set children on a path toward life-long healthy food choices.
Today CitySprouts is part of the emerging 21st-century school garden movement. As Director Jane Hirschi describes in her book, Ripe for Change: Garden-Based Learning in Schools (Harvard Education Press 2015), new program models around the country are collecting evidence of the impact of garden-based learning and exploring how to make it part of every child’s experience.