By Courtney Leeds, Schoolyard Farms

This blog was adapted from a Lightning Talk presented by Schoolyard Farms Co-Founder and Director Courtney Leeds at the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference on June 3, 2016, in Madison, Wis. The 2016 conference brought together more than 1,000 diverse stakeholders working to advance a more healthy, just and sustainable food system for all.

School gardens offer countless benefits: they encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables; teach science, math and history; and increase positive attitudes toward schools and communities. Yet, despite the known benefits, many school gardens struggle to secure funding for supplies, maintenance and garden educators. While there are grant opportunities that help kick start school gardens by providing initial funding for tools and infrastructure, how can programs continue to sustain themselves? One solution could be incorporating social enterprise into your school garden activities.

At Schoolyard Farms in Portland, Ore., we have tested several enterprise models to see which options best fit the schools and communities we work with. Here are a few ideas you can use to help your garden thrive:

Plant Sales
Generate funding and bring the community together with a plant sale. Have each class at your school start a different type of plant in early spring, or ask a local nursery to donate their older inventory. Pick a date and plan an event to sell the seedlings and bring the community to your garden. This could be a garden celebration, a potluck, or simply an opportunity for guests to wander the garden. Invite everyone – the school community, local businesses, community groups and neighbors. Recruit students to help staff the plant sale table, where they’ll have the opportunity to learn important entrepreneurial and money skills.

Save Seeds
Saving seed from the garden is an amazingly effective way to teach hands-on lessons about life-cycles, recycling and stewardship. It’s also a great opportunity to create products that can be sold throughout the year to support your school garden. Let some of the plants in your garden go to seed and teach students to harvest them. Save some of the seeds to be replanted in your garden next year, and reserve the others to sell. Seeds are a great product because they are nonperishable and generally remain viable for three years. Easy seeds to start with are beans, which are large, beautiful and easy for children to thresh. Another simple option is cilantro: it goes to seed quickly, produces large seeds, and can be used as either cilantro seed or coriander spice. Have students decorate small envelopes with pictures and planting information, package the seeds, and sell at school events or a local nursery.

Community Supported Agriculture
If your school has a large garden, consider growing and selling excess produce to the community through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSA is a model used by small farmers to sell their product directly to consumers, where consumers pay a fee to the farmer in the beginning of the season and, in exchange, receive weekly boxes of fresh produce from the farm. The CSA program at Schoolyard Farms generates approximately 30 percent of our income, with grants and donations making up the remainder of our revenue. Managing a CSA program can be time and labor intensive, but this model of selling fresh garden produce offers great benefits for both school and the community.  

Market Stands
If managing a weekly CSA program is not feasible, consider setting up a market stand to sell your garden’s produce. Market stands offer a great amount of flexibility – they can be set up once a week, once a month, or whatever interval best meets your needs. Whichever schedule you decide, try to stick to it so the community knows when your stand will be open. Unlike CSAs, market stands don’t require a set amount of produce each week. They provide the flexibility to sell whatever is available in the field at a given time. Market stands can easily be set up at your school or at local businesses, and provide a great opportunity for students to develop strong marketing and customer service skills.

Schoolyard Farms is dedicated to creating healthier communities by teaching kids how to grow nutritious food that goes from their schoolyard to their plate. They do this by building mini-production farms on underused schoolyards that act as outdoor classrooms for schools. Learn more about Schoolyard Farms here.