Mindfulness in the School Garden

Students at Mallinckrodt Academy beginning a lesson with mindfulness exercises.


This spring, youth educators Meg Holmes and Lucy Herleth have been working with Brown School practicum student Eli Horowitz to develop a mindfulness program to use in conjunction with Gateway Greening’s Seed to STEM curriculum. This project was inspired by City Seeds, the therapeutic horticulture job training program that has been offered to St. Patrick center clients on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm in various forms over the last 10 years. We know from both health studies and our own personal experiences with City Seeds that being outside and in green spaces has a positive impact on well-being. That is improved by being intentional about how one is working in that green space, coupling it with reflection, meditation, and journaling. As St. Louis Public Schools placed a ban on out of school suspensions for children 2nd grade and under, it seemed like an opportune time to add an additional component to our school garden arsenal. 


What is Mindfulness?

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A Mallinckrodt Academy student participating in mindfulness exercises in the school garden.

Mindfulness is the practice focusing one’s attention but in a relaxed and nonjudgmental way. Often it starts with focusing on physical sensations like the feeling of breathing. 

In the near term, this practice helps students to slow down and calm down, which can help students with transitions between classes and activities. In the long term, it can help students to develop a better awareness of their body, thoughts, and emotions, which, in turn, helps students deal with stress and improve impulse control. 

In addition to this, it is a transferrable skill. Focusing attention is an essential skill for our little scientists, whether it is observing pollinators to designing experiments. Being able to slow down and really pay attention is what science is all about.


Instigating the Mindfulness Program

Meg, Lucy, and Eli started the mindfulness program by working with 1st-5th graders at Mallinckrodt Academy and Clay Elementary. For the past month, they have been starting their Seed to STEM classes with 5 minute focused breathing exercises in which students are guided to focus on how their breathing feels. As the exercises finish, Eli asks each student and teacher to share feedback on how they feel with a quick questionnaire. This has allowed Eli to track the impact of regularly including mindfulness in class time. Students and teachers alike have indicated that they like to do the mindfulness exercises and feel more calm and focused when they’ve finished.


Written by Kathleen Carson, Gateway Greening Education Manager.

Looking for more ways to incorporate the school garden into your lesson plan? Stop by:

  • Gateway Greening’s Workshops for Educators page to explore monthly workshops that address the challenges and opportunities represented by teaching in school gardens
  • The Gateway Greening Educators Facebook group to connect with other teachers throughout St. Louis with similar interests in school gardens
  • Check out our In the School Garden Youtube playlist for short, actionable how-to videos that are seasonally relevant.

Seed to STEM

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Students volunteering at Gateway Elementary’s school garden in spring of 2017.


Creating Curriculum for St. Louis Educators

Gateway Greening youth educators have been working in local schools for the last five years, coordinating with teachers to get children outside and working in the garden. Through their work with local teachers, the Gateway Greening education team quickly realized that a curriculum that paired current education standards and outdoor lessons was needed.

Building on the five years of working with K-5 teachers and strengthening the life science focus of the program, the Gateway Greening education team launched its revamped curriculum program, Seed to STEM, in the Summer of 2016.

What is Seed to STEM?

Gateway Greening youth educators are working with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Saint Louis Public Schools science curriculum to ensure that lessons developed in the garden are not merely “extra activities.” Instead, the Seed to STEM curriculum provides classroom teachers an opportunity to meet their curricular goals while also taking their students outside and engaging in hands-on learning activities.

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Students at Gateway Elementary discover earth worms in the school garden.

School gardens are valuable outdoor classrooms and living laboratories. Children do not yet have the life experiences that allow them to incorporate new information that they hear or read into their understanding of the world the way that adults do. This is why it is critically important that students get their hands dirty. As educators, we want students to touch, feel, manipulate, and observe their surroundings with their own senses so that when the students encounter more abstract information, they have experience to “hang” it on. School gardens are cost-effective spaces in which to offer that experience.

What does that experience look like for St. Louis students? When lessons are taken outside to the garden, students are asked to talk about habitats, hypothesize what part of the soil they would most likely find worms in based on what they know about habitats, and test their hypothesis by finding the worms. Another lesson may find students tipping over the logs in their garden’s stump circle to find what is living underneath.

Teachers often ask their students to measure the growth of the crops, comparing the growth of plants in the sun to plants growing in the shade, and connecting those measurements back to a photosynthesis lesson in the classroom. There’s a lot to be said for learning about food webs and, if we are really lucky, watching a hawk nab a squirrel in the middle of a garden lesson. Or, somewhat less dramatically, watch the parasitoid wap larva kill  a caterpillar.

An “All-Inclusive” Curriculum

Students at Mallinckrodt Academy move class time into the school garden.

In addition to the rich environment that a school garden can offer for the life sciences, it is also a place to draw in any of the other subjects or skills taught in St. Louis schools. Math and language arts are a particular favorite with teachers and are regularly incorporated into outdoor lessons in the school garden.

One of the most important lessons explored in the school garden is social-emotional skills; using the school garden as a space to practice the skill of “[p]aying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally: (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p.4). This spring Gateway Greening youth educators have been working with Eli Horowitz, a Washington University Brown School student, to work on mindfulness in the garden.

During a mindfulness lesson, students may be asked to focus on the feeling of their breath entering and leaving their body, or the feeling of the breeze on their skin. This practice helps children (and adults) develop better self-regulation, relieve anxiety, and improve concentration. These mindfulness practices are also a transferable skill that can be useful in making scientific observations.

Gateway Greening youth educators are currently working with classroom teachers at four Saint Louis Public Schools to align lessons with both the growing season calendar and the academic calendar, building a Seed to STEM curriculum that any teacher in the St. Louis region will be able to access and adapt to their school garden.


Written by Kathleen Carson, Gateway Greening Education Manager.

Reference: Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness
meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

Looking for more ways to incorporate the school garden into your lesson plan? Stop by:

  • Gateway Greening’s Workshops for Educators page to explore monthly workshops that address the challenges and opportunities represented by teaching in school gardens
  • The Gateway Greening Educators Facebook group to connect with other teachers throughout St. Louis with similar interests in school gardens
  • Check out our In the School Garden Youtube playlist for short, actionable how-to videos that are seasonally relevant.




Grant will be used to educate and empower the youth of St. Louis through exposure to gardening and healthy eating.

St. Louis (April 20th, 2017) – Gateway Greening has been educating and empowering individuals to strengthen their communities through gardening and urban agriculture in the St. Louis community for more than 30 years. As part of its 2017 initiative, the Monsanto Fund has granted $205,000 to Gateway Greening for its Youth and School Garden Program. Monsanto Fund has partnered with Gateway Greening since 2004, contributing more than $1.5 million to various programs over the last 12 years.

Through the Monsanto Fund, Gateway Greening’s youth and school gardens are able to inspire and educate children across St. Louis through hands-on outdoor lessons and activities in the garden. Gateway Greening works with parents, teachers and other community leaders to teach kids about gardening, agriculture and healthy eating. Matt Schindler, Gateway Greening’s Executive Director, explains the importance of this grant. “With the Monsanto Fund, Gateway Greening is educating and inspriring St. Louis’ future agricultural professionals. Our youth and school garden program is impacting 10,151 students in 51 neighborhoods,” said Schindler.

Michelle Insco, Monsanto Fund program officer, highlights the wide scope of benefits provided by the program. “Gateway Greening’s Youth Garden Program beautifies our community, teaches young people about food and nutrition, and pulls science education out of the classroom and into an engaging, outdoor environment,” said Insco. “Many of these students grew up in the city, so they also learn how agriculture is an integral part in our daily lives, even if they’ve never been to a farm. Monsanto Fund is proud to support this program.”

When building youth gardens, projects are selected based on a number of factors including: need, the quality of the garden space, the level of community and staff support and the thoroughness of the plan for using the garden space. Awarded sites are typically supported with seeds/plants, garden tools, materials (hardscape and landscape), curricular resources and training. We strive to establish sustainable garden projects that can continue teaching our youth for years to come.


About Gateway Greening

Gateway Greening is a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers people to strengthen their communities through gardening and urban agriculture. Gateway Greening has been working to provide creative, grassroots solutions to urban problems since 1984. Programs include supporting more than 220 community and school gardens across the St. Louis area through educational opportunities, garden supplies and technical assistance; and Gateway Greening’s Urban Farm, a 2.5-acre farm in downtown St. Louis that provides therapeutic horticulture and a jobs training program. Visit Gateway Greening at www.gatewaygreening.org. @gatewaygreening.

About Monsanto Fund

The Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of the Monsanto Company, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the communities where farm families and Monsanto Company employees live and work. Visit the Monsanto Fund at www.monsantofund.org.


April on the Urban Farm with Dig It STL

Interns from Soldan International High School painting row signs for the Gateway Greening Urban Farm.

The appearance of April on the farm coincides with the mysterious disappearance of sufficient hours in the day.

Dig It kicked it into high gear last week, cutting, assembling, and painting 96 wooden signs to mark the beds on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm. What we thought might take two days turned into four days of feverish cutting, drilling, and painting.

Dig IT STL intern Adam and AmeriCorps VISTA Genesis planting on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm.

A quick side trip with a few interns to plant half a bed of greens became several hours of aphid-squishing after we discovered the pesky pests had already invaded the seedlings. While we were there, we thought we’d check on the no-till bed whose cover crop surely would be nice and dead by now. Can you tell what part of the bed the holey tarp was on? Hint: it’s the part that still looks very much alive.

Cover crops that survived due to hole-filled tarps.

We re-crimped the cover crop, and found a long roll of black landscape fabric to replace the offending tarp. By then everyone was late, breaking into a slow jog to get the Gateway Greening Urban Farm cleaned and locked up.

Despite the frenetic pace of the final weeks of spring internship, the world right now is certainly mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful, as e.e. cumming wrote. Our interns are already asking about volunteering on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm after graduation, a suggestion that they too have caught the farming bug. I hear it’s pretty contagious.

Written by Carolyn Cosgrove-Payne, Teen Programs Coordinator 


Discover more about the Dig It STL Program: 

A Semester in the Dig It STL Internship Program
No-Till Proposal by Dig It STL

April Showers in School Gardens

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Second graders of Clay Elementary learning about Ecosystem Connections in the School Garden with Gateway Greening Youth Educator Lucy Herleth on a rainy April morning.

It has been a rainy April, but the Clay Elementary second graders are still out in the school garden. Rain often keeps students inside, just as the seeds need to be planted. Instead of stressing about a ruined planting plan, we’ll throw on an extra layer and head outside!


Ecosystem Connections

Second graders discover wiggling worms in the school garden, learning ecosystem connections on a rainy April day.


The second graders are currently learning about ecosystems and a rainy day is the perfect chance to see ecosystem connections. Luckily, Gateway Greening’s Clay Elementary program recently received a donation of rain coats from Frogg Toggs. After quickly dressing in the new rain gear and grabbing science notebooks, the second graders were able to visit the garden on a recent rainy afternoon. First, the second graders met in the gazebo to discuss how springtime is such a special season for the garden. Gardeners may not like all the rainy days, but it keeps the plants very happy.

Now comfortable getting a little wet in their raincoats, the second graders grabbed trowels and created a trench to plant seed potatoes. It took everyone working together to create a trench the entire length of the garden bed. While digging in the wet soil, students observed the soil and the worms wiggling throughout – another ecosystem connection. As they finished creating the trench, the second graders brought out rulers to practice their measuring skills. They double checked that the holes were deep enough and that the seed potato pieces were far enough apart. Tools and hands were a little muddy but potatoes were planted!

The Clay Elementary second graders were excellent gardeners, even in less than ideal conditions. They helped to plant seed potatoes that had to get in the ground and learned that rain does not have to stop the outdoor fun. They got a little damp post Seed-to-STEM lesson but were more energized than ever to get out in the garden.


The Takeaway

Don’t let a little rain stop you from getting out in the school garden. Encourage students (and teachers) to wear clothes that can get muddy and get outside, even if it is just for a little bit.

Written by Gateway Greening Youth Educator Lucy Herleth. For questions about this article or the Seed to STEM program, please contact Lucy at 314-588-9600 ext 106, or send her an email at [email protected]


Discover more about what is happening in St. Louis school gardens this spring:

Weather won’t stop us! (Autistic Classroom at Clay Elementary)

VermiComposting at Gateway Elementary

Students Planning School Garden Crops

Compost Challenge at Mallinckrodt Academy

Second Graders at Clay Elementary heading back inside after a lesson in ecosystem connections in the school garden – despite April showers!

Looking for more ways to incorporate the school garden into your lesson plan? Stop by:

  • Gateway Greening’s Workshops for Educators page to explore monthly workshops that address the challenges and opportunities represented by teaching in school gardens
  • The Gateway Greening Educators Facebook group to connect with other teachers throughout St. Louis with similar interests in school gardens
  • Check out our In the School Garden Youtube playlist for short, actionable how-to videos that are seasonally relevant.

A Semester in Dig It STL Internship Program


This is the first year that Gateway Greening has offered a high school internship program, in addition to our summer teen employment program. Through the internship, local high school students explore environmental issues, the St. Louis food system, and local urban agriculture projects, all while earning school credit.


Here at Gateway Greening, we’ve been talking about the Dig It STL internship program and sharing pictures for months. Yet many people still find themselves wondering – what do the teens that participate in Dig It STL do exactly? For those who are curious to see what a semester in the Dig It STL internship program looks like, here are the highlights of what these youth have been doing, from October 2016 to April 2017.

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Dig It Interns from Soldan International High School spent a sunny day mulching fruit trees on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm.

October 6th: Plant Identification & Plant Families Workshop on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm.

October 18th: Healthy Soils 101 Workshop: We built a compost pile and tested our soil’s water-holding abilities and aggregation.

November 1st: Interviewed for TV by KMOX on the farm! We aren’t sure if the segment has aired yet, but it was pretty fun.

November 10th: Helping Forest Park Forever’s Nature Reserve Steward plant spring ephemerals in the forest.

November 22nd: Helping Farm Manager Jackson draft the crop rotation plan for the Gateway Greening Urban Farm’s next growing season.

December 8th: Mixing up a batch of Fire Cider to ward off the common cold, and learning about the healing properties of plants from Dani Gallagher of Roaming Soul Apothecary.

January 5th: Watching and discussing ‘The Garden’, the story of the South Central Farm, the largest community garden in the US (note: this is a great and educational film, but not a happy one! Tears were shed!)

January 12th: St. Louis Food Policy Council’s Melissa Vatterott introduced teens to the process of making policy in the City of St. Louis, and how policy affects food access.

January 17th: Dr. Ellen Barnidge and Dr. Stephanie McClure from St. Louis University gave our interns a crash course in hunger and food insecurity in our region.

January 31st: Our first planting- green onions!

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Interns Anna and Adam taking soil samples on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm, as part of their no-till capstone project.

February 3rd: The no-till culminating project begins to take shape.

February 9th: One of the many days that Dig It helped Community Garden Manager Dean build beds, sheds, benches, and more for community gardens. Power tools are awesome.

March 1st: 12 interns from Soldan International Studies High School begin their 8-week internship.

March 9th: Dig It led a phenomenal tour of the farm for a funder.

March 16th: Helping out at Global Farms, a farm project for resettled refugees through the International Institute (we worked with them once a month all year).

April 4th: All no-till beds have had their cover crops killed and are tarped off- now we are just waiting for the frost date to pass so we can plant in them!


Thanks to our many awesome partners in food, farming, and ecology who have been guest speakers or led working field trips for our teens! It has been a fantastic experience.


Written by Carolyn Cosgrove-Payne, Teen Programs Coordinator

USDA Awards Grant to Support Green Jobs for St. Louis Teens

USDA Awards Grant to Support Green Jobs for St. Louis Teens

Gateway Greening, Missouri Botanical Garden, Saint Louis Public Schools among organizations working together to support teens pursuing degrees and careers in food, agriculture, and natural resources

ST LOUIS, Missouri, April 4, 2017 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a $135,000 two-year grant to local organizations that employ teens in urban farms, parks, trails, gardens, and other green space. As part of its SPECA program (Secondary Education, Two-Year Postsecondary Education, and Agriculture) in the K-12 Classroom, the agency is supporting a collaborative project of Gateway Greening, Missouri Botanical Garden, Saint Louis Public Schools, and other community organizations, aimed at connecting urban teens with outdoor summer jobs and school-year internships that also provide opportunities for academic enrichment, career development, and civic leadership.

Specifically, funding will support youth workforce development through the efforts of the St. Louis Green Teen Alliance, a collaborative of 8 organizations who collectively recruit, employ, train, and support teens via summer jobs and school-year internships focused on productive, healthy lands and waters, ranging from community gardens in food desert neighborhoods to city parks, trails, and reserves. In addition to building critical skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration, the effort is designed to cultivate a sense of civic pride and ownership among participants, building a future workforce with training in urban issues and solutions.

“This is far more than a summer jobs program,” says Dawna Wharton, Career and Technical Education Specialist for Saint Louis Public Schools. “Our students will learn first-hand about urban agriculture, ecology, and environmental stewardship. They’ll interact with career professionals in fields like urban planning, natural resource management, environmental engineering, education, research, and public policy. And they’ll do all of this alongside peers, working in their own neighborhoods and communities.”

The two-year grant will also fund the University of Missouri – St. Louis to lead an evaluation and assessment effort aimed at improving program impacts in the areas of knowledge and attitudinal shifts and broadening of academic and career interests among participants. Indicators of success will also include direct improvements to green space, such as local food production, ecological restoration, storm water management, and wildlife habitat.

Information on the St. Louis Green Teen Alliance, its programs, and partner organizations can be found at http://www.stlycc.org/.


This project was supported by the SPECA Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant#12122428


About Gateway Greening

Gateway Greening is a nonprofit organization that educates and empowers people to strengthen their communities through gardening and urban agriculture. Gateway Greening has been working to provide creative, grassroots solutions to urban problems since 1984. Programs include supporting more than 220 community and youth-focused gardens across the St. Louis area through educational opportunities, garden supplies and technical assistance, and the Gateway Greening Urban Farm, a 2.5-acre farm in downtown St. Louis that provides therapeutic horticulture and jobs training.

About Missouri Botanical Garden

The Missouri Botanical Garden’s mission is “to discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment in order to preserve and enrich life.” Today, 158 years after opening, the Missouri Botanical Garden is a National Historic Landmark and a center for science, conservation, education and horticultural display. 

About Saint Louis Public Schools

Saint Louis Public Schools is the district of choice for families in the St. Louis region that provides a worldclass education and is nationally recognized as a leader in student achievement and teacher quality. The SLPS mission is to provide a quality education for all students and enable them to realize their full intellectual potential. SLPS also believes that competent, caring, properly supported teachers are essential to student learning.



Kathleen Carson, Gateway Greening Education Manager. [email protected]

Sheila S. Voss, Missouri Botanical Garden Vice President of Education. [email protected]



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Volunteers Spring Cleaning School Gardens

Saint Louis Public Schools have spring break next week, so students throughout the district have been tackling big projects in their gardens. Some of the garden projects were simply too big for students to complete during class time. Thanks to a bit of help from some amazing volunteers, the school gardens will be ready for warmer weather and planting after spring break.

Clay Elementary

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It may have been freezing, but the Washington University Danforth Scholars were a cheerful and energetic volunteer group!
Last week the Washington University Danforth Scholars braved cold weather to spent a day of their own spring break working outside in freezing temperatures at Clay Elementary last week. When they signed up, they did not anticipate needing warm layers and hand warmers, but nonetheless they worked hard throughout the school day! 
The Danforth Scholars kept warm by moving mulch and compost, and tackled a tricky rebuild project of older raised  garden beds. Throughout the day, these volunteers also visited classes and assisted with lessons on weather and ecosystems, pairing up with third graders as they made their weekly weather and plant observations. It may have been colder than expected, but the Clay Elementary students had a great deal of fun with the Danforth Scholars volunteers.


Gateway Elementary

Throughout the week, middle school students from the Wyman Center, a teen outreach and support program, also worked in various Gateway Greening school gardens to prepare for spring. On Thursday, Ferguson Middle Schoolers from the Wyman Center volunteered at Gateway Elementary. The Ferguson students worked with Gateway Elementary’s fourth grade students to finish installing new garden beds, moving endless buckets of soil and compost into new double-high beds and pulled out piles of weeds.

Along the way, Gateway fourth graders fearlessly held giant earthworms and taught the middle school students about worms, and the Ferguson middle schoolers demonstrated excellent wheelbarrow skills. It was truly a community event with partners from MU Extension and Gateway Michael School coming out to work in the school garden with the students.

For students to get the most out of their gardens, extra help is needed throughout the school year, but especially in spring. It takes considerable effort preparing the soil, moving mulch onto pathways, and expanding garden beds before the growing season begins.

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Endless buckets of fresh compost and plenty of humor at Gateway Elementary’s school garden last week.


Volunteer in a School Garden

Volunteering in a school garden is an excellent way to learn more about programs in your local schools. Individuals and groups are welcome to volunteer in school gardens. You can help during big garden work days or implement a garden lesson. Please contact Gateway Greening Volunteer Manager Megan Moncure to learn more.

No-Till Proposal by Dig It STL

Dig It STL Interns ask: “Why are you tilling the Farm beds?”

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Since October, Dig It interns Adam and Anna have been hard at work on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm. From researching and creating a crop rotation plan for the coming year, to getting outside and performing hands-on tasks, they’ve been an incredible help this spring.

As Adam and Anna have learned about soil structure and different soil management practices during their internship, they asked Teen Program Coordinator Carolyn Cosgrove-Payne: “why do we till the vegetable beds on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm?” As an urban agriculture organization, Gateway Greening teaches about no-till practices in our curriculum and discuss the benefits of no-till for microbial activity, soil fertility, and carbon sequestration. 

However, we have never tried using no-till soil management practices on our own urban farm. When challenged with the question, the staff thought about it and realized the main reason we haven’t tried no-till is… inertia. Gateway Greening has never directly used no-till and things seemed to be working fine, so it never entered our minds. 

As part of the Dig It school-year program, interns are required to complete a culminating project that demonstrates some of the knowledge they gained during their time with Gateway Greening this spring. We are excited to announce that Adam and Anna have chosen to put forth a No-Till Proposal for the Gateway Greening Urban Farm as their culminating project. 



Gateway Greening No-Till Proposal by Anna Dotson (McKinley High School) and Adam Mancuso (Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience)

Traditional farming practices utilize tilling when preparing to plant new seeds in the ground. This is done in several ways, from large machinery to handheld tools, bu the goal is the same: to loosen and aerate the soil in order to make it easier to plant and introduce nutrients. However, this process also interrupts the natural soil building process that is occurring during the growing season. This is why some farmers choose to instead use no-till practices on their farms, to maintain and boost this process. While till farming builds up the soil (using compost, fertilizers, etc), tears it down, and builds it up again, no-till farmers instead continuously build up the soil throughout the year.  We will be testing out no-till farming on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm this season in three different beds- lettuce, okra, and butternut squash. The process we will use on those beds is as follows:

  • Use a crimper to crush the stems of the cover cropBlog - No Till 2017 Img 02
  • Use tarps to cover the no-till beds and smother remaining cover crops (1-2 weeks)
  • Add 4 inches of mulch during initial seeding of bed
  • Remove perennial roots from soil where seeds are being planted
  • Incorporate dead vegetation back into the mulch
  • Pull mulch away from stems of young growing plants
  • Add more mulch as plants grow
  • Spread compost around plants before adding more mulch on top
  • Water beds minimally using drip irrigation
  • Educate visitors: “Don’t compact the soil my dudes!”


Before and after the beds are planted, we will be measuring several aspects of soil health through soil testing (pictured in attached pix), and we will compare tilled and no-till beds of the same crops for diseases, pests, and yield throughout the season.   

Compost Challenge at Mallinckrodt Academy

Mallinckrodt Academy’s Compost Bin with a fresh layer of “greens” to balance its mix.

Whether you enjoy a good steak or are a vegetarian, the truth is we all rely on healthy soil in which to grow our food (or our cows food). Simply put, we would not be able to eat without soil. Over the last week the fourth graders at Mallinckrodt Academy have been learning about the importance of soil to our world.

Depending on the local climate, it can take hundreds of years to develop one inch of topsoil. That can be difficult to demonstrate in the classroom. Fortunately, there’s a way for students to speed this process along – composting in the school garden.

Healthy compost consists of nitrogen rich greens: food scraps, grass clippings, and weeds that haven’t yet gone to seed, layered with carbon filled browns: dried leaves, newspaper, and straw, all mixed with a bit of water and soil (to inoculate new batches of compost with microorganisms that will help to decompose the compost over time). This week the fourth graders of Mallinckrodt spent some quality time observing their compost bin, and discovered that the balance of “browns” and “greens” was off. A compost bin that is piled high with mostly oak leaves would break down eventually, but not anytime soon. When the students were asked how they could remedy the imbalance, the answer was clear – the food scraps from their lunches would be perfect!

Lunchroom to Compost

Mallinckrodt Academy has had an active school composting program for the last few years, but in recent weeks the school has streamlined their method to great success.

When the program was first implemented, it began with a single bucket placed near the cafeteria trash can during lunch. This quickly proved to be too messy, leading to extra work for the janitorial staff.

Mallinckrodt students separating their personal food scraps for composting during lunch.

After weeks of enduring this method, the lunchroom staff came up with a workable solution. Rather than using just one bucket placed near the trash, cafeteria staff purchased small buckets like the kind used for sanitizing water to put at each table. With a few announcements during lunch from Youth Educator Meg Holmes, Senior Jake Norman the spanish teacher, and even Mr. DeAndre Thomas the principal, students soon knew to throw excess food they weren’t going to eat into the compost. Even more importantly, the students knew which food could be composted (apple cores, bread crust, peas) and which food stuffs could not (trash, chicken nuggets, milk).

Although the students of Mallinckrodt experienced a few growing pains when first beginning to compost their food scraps, the school as a whole now diverts several pounds a week from the trashcan to the compost bin! The school has even gone so far as too instigate “Waste Not Wednesdays” which has become a positive way to include the whole school, students and staff, to care for their garden and the earth.

-Meg Holmes, Gateway Greening Youth Educator


Gateway Greening challenges each of our In-Network School and Community Gardens to take on The Compost Challenge in 2017. Are you game?


Additional Resources:

Looking for more information on composting or implementing school composting programs? Check out these resources, or email our Educators at [email protected].

Video: An overview of composting

Video: This Week in the Community Garden – Composting

Video: Composting at Busch Middle School of Character