Inspiring Young Minds and Growing Knowledge with School Gardens

Accessing nutritious food isn’t readily available to everyone, and millions of children worldwide face food insecurity daily.

A school meal is often the only guaranteed source of nutrition a student receives and this acts as a big incentive to keep them in the classroom. To develop their full potential, young students must have good nutrition to stay healthy and engaged in learning.

In partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Project Concern International (PCI) is ensuring school children in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Tanzania receive a nutritious meal on a daily basis through the Food for Education (FFE) program.

PCI goes beyond simply providing a meal though.

Our USDA-funded FFE program uses a sustainable “Garden School” approach to learning. The program promotes and strengthens the use of school gardens to not only provide a healthy meal, but also facilitates an interactive teaching tool outside of the classroom.

As part of a learning activity, a young boy in Nicaragua counts the number of bananas harvested in his school garden.

As part of a learning activity, a young boy in Nicaragua counts the number of bananas harvested in his school garden.

“School meals make a real and measurable difference in the lives of children and their families,” said Leonel Arguello, PCI Country Director, Nicaragua. “Ensuring children have year-round access to the nutritious food they need to learn and grow to be successful creates a stronger future for the entire country.”

Through our FFE programs in Central America, we’re working with 294 schools in six municipalities in Guatemala and 1,016 schools in 11 municipalities in Nicaragua to improve the literacy of school-age children by enhancing student enrollment, attendance and attentiveness.

Surrounded by colorful tools used for teaching literacy in the classroom, three dedicated teachers gather together in Nicaragua to write lesson plans.

Surrounded by colorful tools used for teaching literacy in the classroom, three dedicated teachers gather together in Nicaragua to write lesson plans.

Teachers use the school gardens for lessons on health, nutrition and agriculture, but also on math, science and other core subjects. Using gardens as a hands-on teaching tool reinforces what’s being taught in the classroom and also brings new learning opportunities to life. Schools are well placed to teach children the links between nutrition, health and basic agricultural skills.

A group of girls in Guatemala proudly display their growing school garden vegetables.

A group of girls in Guatemala proudly display their growing school garden vegetables.

Currently, a total of 208 school gardens in Guatemala and 193 gardens in Nicaragua have been created and are growing a diverse set of vegetables including: tomatoes, beets, carrots, cucumbers, chard, cabbage, broccoli, potatoes, radishes, cauliflower, lettuce, onion, cilantro and celery.

Two girls in Guatemala pose with cucumbers from their school garden.

Two girls in Guatemala pose with cucumbers from their school garden.

To complement these gardens and ensure sustainability, FFE has helped create 14 greenhouses in Guatemala. The greenhouses are simple, low-cost structures that are easily assembled from plastic and mesh wiring and help protect the cultivation of seedlings and crops under controlled conditions.

Each of the greenhouses has produced between 2,500 and 10,000 seedlings, enabling schools to grow crops year round, providing schools with an “insurance policy” against damage and disease and allowing for the cultivation of a wider variety of crops that may not traditionally grow in the region.

Schools in Guatemala use greenhouses to grow tomatoes and chili peppers for school breakfasts, while cauliflower, lettuce, cabbage, and onion seedlings were sold to other local schools and farmers.

Schools in Guatemala use greenhouses to grow tomatoes and chili peppers for school breakfasts, while cauliflower, lettuce, cabbage, and onion seedlings were sold to other local schools and farmers.

The greenhouses foster the organic management of crops and provide schools with an additional source of income as surplus is sold to other schools, parents or in the local market.

In Nicaragua, the FFE program distributed small fruit dehydrators to 13 schools, and trained parents, students and teachers on how to use these handmade processors which use sunlight to extract all the humidity of fruit like bananas, tangerines, oranges, etc., while keeping all the rich nutritional and calorie content of the fruit.

This method allows schools and local families to store fruit for a significantly longer period of time without spoiling and thus improve their nutrition. Students enjoy the dry fruit and eat it like dessert after their school meals.

The FFE program helps alleviate hunger in a sustainable way while supporting education, health and community development, ensuring children have the tools to thrive.

Bal Maria Gutierrez, PCI Regional Director, Guatemala, said, “The better the education and nutrition we can provide today, will help our schoolchildren build a stronger foundation for a healthy and productive future.”