"If the children are involved in growing the vegetables, then they are interested in eating them," said Judith Collier-Reid, national consultant for the Dallas-based American Heart Association's Teaching Gardens program, which has handed grants to about 160 gardens since kicking off last year. Its mission is to help curb the nation's childhood obesity epidemic.
Cynthia Domenghini of the Vermont-based National Gardening Association said the concept for school gardens has been around a long time — her organization has been helping to fund them for around 30 years — but picked up speed when first lady Michelle Obama broke ground on an herb and vegetable garden at the White House in 2009.
"There's been an increase in the number of organizations promoting school gardening," said Domenghini. She said her group doesn't keep a count of gardens in schools, but that about 1,300 youth programs in schools, churches, libraries and other places have registered with it.
"Fruit and vegetable gardens are probably most popular, but some grow flowers," she said. "We see all different types of garden programs."
Todd LoFrese, assistant superintendent for support services for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina, said there's a gardening component at nearly all of their 18 schools, ranging from a small herb garden to support a culinary program to a high school with a student-run program that donates produce to needy families. A new elementary school set to open next year has been designed to include garden plots, he said, and will have a rainwater collection system and a green roof with vegetation.