Why is garden learning important?
Newburgh and Beacon, where Hudson Valley Seed’s largest programs operate, are among the region’s highest-needs communities. 26% of Newburgh residents and 20% of Beacon residents live in poverty. Students from these areas are less likely to have access to healthy food options or transportation to experience nature outside of their urban settings, which ultimately impacts the way they see the world we live in and their ability to learn to their fullest.
The communities served by HVS programs face epidemics of obesity and food insecurity. Newburgh has an obesity rate of 28%, and 47% of Beacon’s children are obese, but the stressed public schools cannot offer nutrition classes. 100% of Newburgh public school students and 45% of Beacon public school students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches, and many families of students rely on foodbanks to feed their families.
Our communities are also academically disadvantaged: Only 27% of Newburgh students and 35% of Beacon students are proficient in reading and math. Their school districts face significant financial challenges, and offering experiential learning, science, applied maths, and other elements included in our programming is beyond the current capacity of the school’s dedicated yet overstretched teaching staff.
Social & Emotional
Few kids have the tools they need to effectively navigate themselves and their social surroundings. Across the country, especially in underserved communities, students deal with increasing oppressions, social isolation, bullying and other antisocial behaviors, and disproportionate disciplinary rates. Schools are only recently realizing the importance of teaching skills like self-management, self-awareness, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. These tools are necessary to engage in learning, behave with kindness and empathy, reduce depression and stress, and perform academically.
Our students face a nature deficit, especially those in Newburgh. Even though the region in which we work is rich in organic agriculture and outdoor recreation, few local children have opportunities to spend time outside due to high crime and limited transportation: students grow up stuck in their urban neighborhoods, divorced from the nearby natural world. Many of our students have never touched dirt before their first garden lesson, and don’t know where vegetables come from. Not knowing the earth, they have no reason to love it or care for it.
How does garden learning create change?
Our student-centered, experiential, democratic approach to learning fosters agency within students, both in the classroom and beyond. HVS students show increased focus in the classroom, improved test results, and increased school attendance.
Children are empowered to try eating vegetables by growing them, making recipes, and repeatedly interacting with them in a fun and encouraging environment. HVS students are 46% more likely to try and like new vegetables than their peers! Many parents share with us that their children request veggies for dinner after growing them in our gardens.
Social and Emotional
By caring for delicate young plants, engaging in self-directed learning, and working together to keep the garden healthy, our students learn patience, gentleness, cooperation, observation, mindfulness, and interdependence.
Through caring for their small gardens, we help children understand each human’s responsibility in caring for the earth. Activating students’ interest in nature and food systems, we lay the groundwork for an entire local generation of informed, engaged, capable environmental stewards.
While we observe measurable, immediate impacts related to the above objectives from our garden programs, we see our greatest impacts in the long-term shifts of our students’ understanding and engagement in the world. Because we work with students for six years (K-5), all lessons are deeply reinforced. A student enters our program afraid of dirt and unsure where food comes from, and leaves an expert in seed biology, advocating for healthy change in their family’s food habits, wanting to eat kale, and able to tend to their own garden