Foster Environmental Stewardship

With 83% of people in the U.S. living in metropolitan areas (1), today American children are further removed from nature than ever before. Research has shown that connection with nature is key for child development (2), and gardens are a very practical option for re-introducing this generation of kids to the natural environment. Exploring ecosystem complexity in a garden setting can stimulate a child’s attention with the rapid changes observed, building their capacity to retain information and ideas, the first step in Bloom’s taxonomy of cognition.

Several studies suggest that gardening in particular is one of the most effective tools available for growing environmental awareness in children. Lohr & Pearson-Mims (2005) ascertained that while all interaction with plants during childhood is associated with positive values of trees in adulthood, active gardening as a child was most influential in heightening positive tree values (5). Another study by Blair, Giesecke, and Sherman (1991) also determined that “active gardening in childhood was the most important predictor of whether trees had personal value in adulthood” (6).

While training our next generation of environmental stewards, school gardens are also changing children’s tastes to be more sustainable by increasing exposure/ access to and familiarity with local, seasonal food. Especially important is the re-introduction of cool season veggies, which are often ignored and replaced with imported hot weather crops during colder times of the year.

Supporting Publications:

(1) U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2006). Economic Research Service. Briefing rooms: Rural population and migration. Retrieved from: 
(2) Thorp, L., & Townsend, C. (2001). Agricultural education in an elementary school: An ethnographic study of a school garden. (Proceedings of the 28th Annual National Agricultural Education Research Conference in New Orleans, LA, pp. 347-360).
(3) Kellert, S.R. (2002). Experiencing nature: Affective, cognitive & evaluative development in children. In P.H. Kahn Jr. & S.R. Kellert (Eds.), Children & nature: Psychology sociocultural & evolutionary investigations (pp. 117-151). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
(4) Murphy, M., & Schweers, E. (2003). Evaluation of a food systems-approach to fostering ecological literacy. Final Report to Center for Ecoliteracy.
Accessed from: 
(5) Lohr, V.I., & Pearson-Mims, C.H. (2005). Children’s active and passive interactions with plants influence their attitudes and actions toward trees and gardening as adults. HortTechnology, 15(3), 472-476.
(6) Blair, D., Giesecke, C.C., & Sherman, S. (1991). A dietary, social, and economic evaluation of the Philadelphia urban gardening project. Journal of Nutrition Education, 23, 161-167.