Food Forests: A Step Above School Gardens

Andrea Abbate
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For decades, teachers and schools have realized the value of hands-on outdoor education. And gardens offer a perfect setting for that type of learning to take place. Across the globe, school gardens have sprung up. Lately, another concept has taken school gardens to the next level: food forests.

Food forests offer a range of benefits that go beyond the school garden. Gardens only focus on one “layer” of space. On the other hand, food forests use several layers of vertical space. Throughout the world, small farmers with limited resources have used this design for years. At the top, large trees are planted. Smaller trees and shrubs follow. Next, layers of vines and herbs are planted. Finally, root vegetables grow beneath the soil. Such a design allows many more plants, fruits, and vegetables to be grown with less land.

Food Forests as Outdoor Classrooms

In schools, food forests provide a space for students to escape the classroom. As a result, students can connect with nature on a whole new level. Students learn about tiny plants on the forest floor and the tallest of trees. Best of all, food forests require minimal maintenance. The plants grow on their own, just as they would in a natural forest. Hence, food forests are perfect for schools that lack the support to maintain garden.

food forests

Food forests offer a chance for students of all ages to learn in a fresh setting. For example, younger students can observe the life cycles of butterflies or learn about the seasons. Upper-level students can discover the wonders of soil and compost first-hand. Furthermore, research suggests that gardening improves student achievement levels in science, math, and language arts. Students can even learn about geography and other cultures through food forests. In Miami, for instance, the climate is similar to that of Southeast Asia. Schools in such climates can plant exotic fruits and vegetables, such as moringa trees, Okinawa spinach, and breadfruit. These drought-resistant plants provide special teaching opportunities. Thus, a trip to the garden can enhance nearly any lesson.

Many schools chose to use the produce grown in food forests in their lunches. This is a great technique to teach students about nutrition. In disadvantaged schools in particular, growing fresh produce on-site can create life-changing effects on students and families. In cities where fresh, healthy food is unavailable, gardening programs can increase students’ fruit and vegetable intake. Such programs have also proven to be effective in reducing youths’ obesity risk.

Food Forest Resources

Are you looking to transform your school’s lawn into a food forest and outdoor classroom? Or maybe you’re wondering how you can build a food forest in your very own backyard? Whatever big ideas you have in mind, check out the following helpful resources to get started.

Use Tree kits to raise funds for your school’s food forest!


Berezowitz, Claire K., Andrea B. Bontrager Yoder, and Dale A. Schoeller. “School gardens enhance academic performance and dietary outcomes in children.” Journal of School Health 85.8 (2015): 508-518.

Gatto, N. M., et al. “LA sprouts randomized controlled nutrition, cooking and gardening programme reduces obesity and metabolic risk in Hispanic/Latino youth.” Pediatric obesity 12.1 (2017): 28-37.

Olmos, Isabel. “Students Plant ‘Food Forests’ in Miami-Dade Public Schools.” Miami Herald, 4 May 2015.

Roberts, Tobias. “Tropical Food Forests.” Permaculture Research Institute, 14 June 2017.

Andrea Abbate
Andrea Abbate is a recent graduate of Emory University with a degree in English and Sociology. She is passionate about combining her interests in writing and research to create positive environmental change. Currently backpacking throughout South America, she is working as a blogging intern with ForestNation.

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