People’s Garden Pilot School Garden Project: Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth


2011 to 2013


Cornell University Cooperative Extension-NYC is co-leading a 2.5 year national project that involves approximately 60 schools in 4 States in a randomized controlled trial examining effects of school gardens on fruit and vegetable consumption and other outcomes.


Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years (CDC, 2011). Children are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, prediabetes, and other major health issues; today’s generation of youth is projected to be the first with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Most U.S. youth do not meet the minimum recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, while empty calories from added sugars and solid fats contribute to 40% of daily calories for young people ages 2-18 (CDC, 2011). Moreover, children’s levels of physical activity have declined, with only 42% of children ages 6-11 achieving the recommended 1 hour of physical activity/day (Troiano et al, 2007).


Cornell University Cooperative Extension-NYC is working in partnership with Washington State University Extension, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, University of Arkansas Extension, and Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension, among other partners, to plan, implement, and evaluate a 2.5-year research study to determine what effect school gardens have on children’s fruit and vegetable (FV) consumption, FV preferences, nutritional knowledge, physical activity and other outcomes. Nancy Wells, Associate Professor, Cornell University Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, leads the social science research for the national project.

Fifty-seven schools in 4 states (Arkansas, Iowa, Washington, New York) have been randomly assigned to either the intervention group (gardens/intervention start in Spring 2012) or the waitlist control group (gardens/intervention start in late Spring 2013). The project will target 2nd, 4th and 5th grade students in year 1, and the same children in year 2, as 3rd, 5th and 6th graders.


Project Planning – NY State
• Since the start of the project (April 15, 2011), we have conducted ongoing communications with 6 Cornell Cooperative Extension teams in New York State: NYC region (3 counties are involved), Rockland, Suffolk, Delaware, Schenectady, and Wayne/Monroe Counties to confirm 20 local schools’ involvement through signed agreements and completion of intake surveys. Began the subcontracting process with 5 county offices.
• In New York City, visited all four schools located in diverse communities: Flatbush, Brooklyn; Jamaica, Queens; and Chinatown and Upper East Side/East Harlem in Manhattan. All principals and administrators were highly enthusiastic and committed to the project’s goals and research activities. Developed a proposal to the NYC Department of Education’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) for review and approval to conduct research in NYC schools.
• Received commitment from representatives of the national American Community Gardening Association, NYS Dept. of Agriculture and Markets/Urban Food Systems Program, Rockland County Dept. of Health, and Cornell University Cooperative Extension-NYC’s Executive Director Don Tobias to serve on the project’s Advisory Committee.
• Promoted to the project’s Extension Educators an online pilot course, “Teaching and Learning in the School Garden: Theory into Practice,” developed by Rockland Co. Extension Educator Donna Cooke, and Cornell Garden-Based Learning specialist Marcia Eames-Sheavly, focusing on the foundations and teaching strategies of garden-based learning (GBL), and tools and resources for school gardening programs to be integrated into school curricula. Lorraine Brooks, Cornell Extension-NYC educator, enrolled and successfully completed the course from June-August.

Project Planning/Implementation – National Management Team
• Participated in bimonthly teleconferences to discuss overall project direction and the numerous operational steps needed throughout this term to enable implementation. Created an overall project timeline for Year 1. Contributed to compiling data used for project budgeting and review.
• Participated on the Content & Delivery Team (committee), including weekly teleconference meetings, to develop a strategy for the selection and organization of curricular resources for the curricular ’Educational Toolkit’, and preparation for training for teachers and Extension Educators.
• Co-led efforts of newly-formed Communications Team (committee) to develop strategies for the development and use of internal/external communication approaches and tools, including project website, inclusion of Extension educators to project’s Sharepoint worksite, exploration of social media, etc. Developed a “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth” logo.
• Contributed to the success of the Seattle National Project Team planning and training workshop in Sept 2011, which involved the national project team, Cornell research team members, and all State Leaders, including input to the agenda and meeting activities.

Contributions Toward Research Efforts
• Planned for and successfully convened a two-day school gardens workshop in Mt Tremper, NY (Aug 2011), with funds provided by the Cornell Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. This workshop brought together Extension Educators from the 5 NY counties and NYC, as well as the Cornell research team led by co-PI Nancy Wells, co-PI Marcia Eames-Sheavly, and Advisory Committee members Brian Wansink (Cornell Food and Brand Lab), and Carrie Steindorff (Rockland County Dept of Health). Attendees were introduced to the project’s research methods and instruments, received an update on the curricula and overview of communication strategies, and provided input to their development and use.
• Reviewed approximately 15 research and evaluation instruments, including content, presentation format, and aspects of data compilation; contributed toward the review and modification of a subset of these, when needed.
• Compiled geographic/demographic and project specific data all schools participating from the 4 States, working directly with State Leaders and with Extension educators. Worked with the Cornell research team to address and resolve issues at the local school, county and State levels in all four States. Helped to facilitate the random assignment process, working with the research team.
• Developed overarching Guidelines for Extension Educators to become familiarized with the process of data collection during the Fall baseline, pre-program period, as well as online versions of the home surveys (Home Environment Survey and What Foods Do You Eat?) in support of the research team needs, using Qualtrics software through Cornell University.
• Contributed toward the development of three other related grant proposals led by the project’s lead researcher.
• Facilitated/translated materials such as the parental notification letter, home surveys, and photo consent form into languages needed by participating schools across the country (Spanish, Chinese).
• Initiated and developed the draft “Orientation to the Project for the School Community” Powerpoint video presentation/webinar provided to schools nationwide to view and promoted its use among Extension Educators with schools. Promoted four research training webinar sessions developed by the research team to the Extension Educators via the State Leaders, to prepare them for the use and application of research protocols and tools.
• Coordinated People’s Garden data collection activity with other research efforts being conducted with funding from a related project award, including measuring physical activity using surveys and accelerometers (NY only).

Research Data and Information Collection
• Beginning late September/October 2011, supported NY educators’ implementation of data collection activities, involving food tray photography, classroom and home-based surveys, teachers’ logs/class rosters, and cafeteria production records across 20 NY elementary schools. Provided technical support in guiding the process at each school over three days. In Delaware County, contributed to preparing consent letters for schools and parents.
• Supported the logistics of sharing accelerometers with Extension educators working with 4th and 5th grade students at the 20 NY schools.
• Supported the efforts of educators in Iowa and Arkansas. The project has successfully collected data from the first term, reaching about 1,000 elementary students in NY, and approx. 4,000 students from the 4 States combined.
• The next mini-data collection period is January 2012, primarily involving principals and school staff. Planning is currently underway for schools selected as intervention schools, which will begin soil testing, creating school gardens and implementing classroom activities via a project curricula starting in 2012.

• Co-PI Gretchen Ferenz was interviewed and videotaped in May 2011, by City-As-School alternative high school students, as part of the City Parks Foundation’s video production program, City Parks Productions. Together they are collaborating on a documentary about school gardens. The completed video will be posted on YouTube, shown on a local cable station, and submitted to film festivals.
• Project staff worked with Cornell’s Press Office to issue an initial release in April:
o $1M will launch 70 school garden programs, 23 in N.Y.
• Cornell Univ. Cooperative Extension-NYC’s website and Facebook page:

Submitted by: 

  • Wilkins, Jennifer L

Researchers involved: 

  • Tse, Caroline
  • Ferenz, Gretchen S
  • Brooks, Lorraine
  • Wells, Nancy
  • Myers, Elizabeth
  • Falk, Elizabeth
  • Henderson, Charles
  • Wilkins, Jennifer L

Organizations involved: 

  • Washington State University Extension
  • Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
  • University of Arkansas
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension Suffolk County
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension Rockland County
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension Schenectady County
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension Delaware County
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension Wayne County
  • Cornell Cooperative Extension Monroe County

International focus: 

  • United States of America

United States focus: 

  • Arkansas
  • Iowa
  • New York
  • Washington
  • Delaware

New York State focus: 

  • Delaware
  • Monroe
  • Rockland
  • Schenectady
  • Suffolk
  • Tompkins
  • Wayne