Last month we launched new materials on our School Garden Program website. The Food Safety Plan was transformed from a pre-written template to a fillable PDF where applicants can easily input information about their garden and write their own policies and procedures. By writing their own food safety plans, garden leaders are empowered to proactively manage environmental health and food safety in their gardens. The materials were designed to be in support of teachers, the School Garden Program’s primary audience.

Our School Garden Program also developed a range of new materials to assist schools in writing their Food Safety Plans, and created best practices documents for rainwater harvesting, composting, and, aquaponics so that these systems are as thoughtfully designed as the gardens.

A garden that is not well-designed can pose risks to health both for gardeners and those who share in the bounty of the garden. These risks can include contaminated water sources, sick individuals handling produce that will be eaten by others, or high levels of lead in the soil. It is critical, especially in areas where residents already have significant challenges to their health and well-being, that health is protected.

The School Garden Program developed profiles of the communities where certified gardens are located and found that many of them are serving populations that are vulnerable to hunger, chronic health diseases, and potentially harmful environmental exposures. Twenty-six percent of certified gardens are located in USDA-designated food deserts. Certified gardens are located in communities with populations that are, on average, 46 percent low income, 23 percent below poverty, and 45 percent minority. See the map of certified gardens on the School Garden Program home page.

Through the School Garden Program, certified gardens implement best practices for growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables so that the foods grown are safe to eat and serve, ensuring that healthy food choices aren’t compromised by unhealthy growing conditions or handling practices.