School Food Gardens have a long history in France, going back to the 19th century as universal schooling was being introduced. School gardens were required for all rural schools, and were designed as instructional gardens (as well as sources of food). But their importance has declined over the past 40 years as the proportion of the population destined for farming employment has declined. And it has always been a challenge to maintain school gardens in urban areas, given how dense French cities and towns tend to be.
In the past few years, however, school gardens have become popular again. Across France, kids celebrate ‘School Gardens’ week, and schools participate in contests (my favorite is the national ‘Best School Flower Garden’ contest, held every March). Schools without a garden can now ‘adopt a garden’ in the neighborhood; and urban gardening on unused urban spaces has also seen a resurgence.
Teachers also integrate gardens into school lessons. For younger children, gardening teaches basic biology and fine motor skills. For older children, lessons range from the scientific (biology, agronomy, health) to the practical (agriculture and gardening techniques), and the political (given that France is fiercely proud of its farmers and its agricultural tradition) to the the artistic (art classes get to go and draw the gardens in various stages of development). In fact, there is a long tradition in France of linking gardening to art, going back to André Le Nôtre, one of the fathers of modern landscape architecture, and designer of the gardens at Versailles.
Gardens, for the French, are more than sources of food. They’re also a way to educate children, and to inspire them–in the sciences and the arts. What an interesting contrast to the North American school gardening movement, which is much more narrowly focused on healthy food. Seems like a great approach that we might adopt here at home.
What do you think?