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By Karen Saake.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of articles on programs designed to expose children to the joys and values of gardening. We hope you will enjoy learning about the many creative ways in which fellow horticulturalists are creating the next generation of gardeners. If you have a program you would like to write about, please contact the editor.

For the last several years, I have had the opportunity to work with the Sage Garden Project, a charitable organization that funds garden and nutrition education in high-needs elementary schools throughout California. We currently support 30 schools, and each school has created their own unique version of our program. One of the requirements to receive our funding is the commitment to hold regularly scheduled garden and nutrition classes during school hours. We provide lesson plans for grades K-6, funding for instructional staff and materials, a fully-outfitted mobile cooking center, educator training seminars, and a network of experienced advisers and peer support.

Sage Garden Project lessons deliver grade-level standards and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and more. I am fond of saying that we can teach any subject through the lens of the garden and the kitchen. The hands-on techniques we employ engage students, and provide the starting point for lessons in not only botany and nutrition, but also chemistry, engineering, social studies, geography, history, creativity, and economics. In the process, the students are learning self-reliance, teamwork, and respect, along with a host of other character-building traits and life skills.

The core objective of the Sage Garden Project is diabetes prevention. We know that planting and nurturing fruit and vegetables encourages children to try – and enjoy – eating these nutritious foods they might otherwise dismiss. By capitalizing on this with fun, hands-on activities, supported by nutritional science and cooking skills, The Sage Garden Project is laying the groundwork for the success of improved school lunches, and a lifetime of optimal health.

Our students learn the complete food cycle. They plant the seeds, nurture the plants, harvest the produce, taste it straight from the garden, prepare it in a delicious recipe and return the food scraps to the compost to create healthy soil that will begin the entire cycle over again.

At our pilot school in Encinitas, we have been teaching classes for over seven years. Last year, our first group of students, who had been in the program during their entire elementary school experience, graduated. It has been amazing to watch their confidence grow as they developed skills in the garden and the kitchen. Their openness to trying new foods expanded with each lesson. It never ceases to delight me every time I hear students saying, “More veggies, please!”

In 2019, we will be publishing our curriculum and begin accepting applications for the next wave of funding. You can stay up to date on this exciting development by joining our email list at

*Karen Saake is the Master Gardener for Sage Garden Project and a San Diego County Master Gardener. She supports the garden coordinators at the thirty Sage Garden Project Schools and often presents at school garden conferences. Her students like to call her Mrs. Snacky because she loves to feed them nutritious snacks.

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