Grow to Learn: Changing the Educational Landscape of New York City Schools

by Gabrielle Khalife
Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series

Name: Grow to Learn  

What they do: Grow to Learn is the citywide school gardens initiative for New York City. Established in 2010 by GrowNYC and the Mayor’s Fund, the program is managed through a partnership among GrowNYC, the NYC Parks Department’s Green Thumb division, and the Department of Education’s Office of School Food. The program provides ongoing resources, technical assistance, and training to support gardens in NYC schools. They work to ensure that school gardens are sustainable teaching resources, responsive to each individual community’s vision and needs, and transformative for student learning in the cafeteria, classroom, and beyond.

Schools prepare children to be the next generation of productive and positive citizens. Grow to Learn helps schools to be healthy, active spaces, connecting students to the natural world. They believe gardens create community by bringing together diverse groups of people through a shared space. School gardens can be incredible tools for developing holistic programming, making real world connections, and supporting students as they learn to empathize and collaborate, creating the next generation of responsive leaders.

How they do it: The New York City Department of Education (DOE) oversees more than 1800 registered public and charter schools in more than 1300 individual school buildings. Grow to Learn supports all types of gardens (schoolyards, rooftops, community gardens) at DOE K-12 public and charter schools. The program provides:

  • Funding every fall in the form of Mini-Grants of $500-$2,000
  • Free Materials such as seeds, seedlings, soil, lumber, compost, mulch, and tools, for registered schools
  • Technical Help through skill-building workshops; establishing and building gardens; one-on-one support through on-site visits, phone calls, and email
  • A Citywide Network of partnerships that brings resources for school gardeners  into one convenient, central location
  • Advocacy to build citywide support for school gardens

Grow to Learn also offers a nutrition education program for 5th and 6th graders called Seed to Plate, which was designed in collaboration with the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Teachers College Columbia University. The program inspires healthy food choices and aims to develop environmental leaders by telling the story of local food and why it’s important for personal wellness, the environment, and the community.

The program includes:

  • Student tours and tastings at local Greenmarkets
  • Visits to urban farms including the Governors Island Teaching Garden or the Queens County Farm Museum
  • Classroom visits from local farmers
  • Hands-on prep of diverse, healthy foods grown in New York State
  • Exploring the journey of food in New York from seed to plate
  • Using interdisciplinary/standards so that the course can be taught in social science, science, health or ELA classes
  • On-site training by the Grow to Learn staff that  prepares teachers to lead Seed to Plate in their classrooms.
  • Field trips, guest visits, cooking supplies prepared and delivered, and ongoing assistance provided by the Grow to Learn staff  at each school

DOE schools must apply online to register with Grow to Learn.

Mission: to inspire, promote and support the creation of sustainable learning gardens in public schools throughout NYC

Latest project/campaigns: Designed In partnership with GrowNYC, Food Justice 101 for Students aims to provide young people with the tools they need to critically explore the food system and learn how they can be active participants in its transformation. 

Culinary Education for Youth provides hands-on experience preparing seasonal meals.

Retracing Our Roots teaches youth how community gardens came to exist within this highly urbanized environment and the struggles it took to make that possible. See full list of events for 2018-2019 year.

Major Funding: NYC Parks GreenThumb, NYC Office of Sustainability, Green Mountain Energy, Eataly, see full list

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Interesting fact about how it is working to positively affect the food system: Since 2012, Seed to Plate has been taught in 95 5th and 6th grade classrooms in 13 schools, reaching 2200+ students.



100 Gold Street

New York NY, 10038

Core Programs:

-School garden support programming

-Nutrition Education (Seed to Plate) 

Number of staff: 4

Number of volunteers: Individuals sign up to be GrowNYC volunteers (~3,000/year) and are able to register for Grow to Learn opportunities as they arise

Areas served: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens

Year Started: 2011

Director: Kristin Fields

Contact Information:

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