07/08/2010 05:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Caitlin Flanagan is Still Wrong: New Proof of Why School Gardens Matter

Earlier this year I posted a response to The Atlantic's Caitlin Flanagan on her opinion of the usefulness of school gardens. Naturally I contended, then as now, that she was wildly off the mark. Seems now we have even more research to back up that fact.

Mrs. Flanagan's contention, couched in a "book review" that was actually more of a supposed anti-snob witch hunt of Alice Waters, was that gardens in schools were a waste of students and teachers time as well as taxpayer money because, in her view, there is no educational benefit to it.

The UK's Royal Horticultural Society has recently released the findings of their study, compiled by the National Foundation for Educational Research, demonstrating that "as well as helping children lead happier, healthier lives today, gardening helped them acquire the essential skills they need to fulfill their potential in a rapidly-changing world and make a positive contribution to society as a whole." (pdf of full report)

Outcomes from involving pupils in school gardening were reported as including:
  • Greater scientific knowledge and understanding.
  • Enhanced literacy and numeracy, including the use of a wider vocabulary and
  • greater oracy skills.
  • Increased awareness of the seasons and understanding of food production.
  • Increased confidence, resilience and self-esteem.
  • Development of physical skills, including fine motor skills.
  • Development of a sense of responsibility.
  • A positive attitude to healthy food choices.
  • Positive behaviour.
  • Improvements in emotional well-being.

This demonstrates not merely that I and so many others are correct where Mrs. Flanagan is wrong, but also that programs initiated at a national level, such as the British Campaign for School Gardening, can have a very positive effect.

First Lady Michelle Obama, has launched a comprehensive program against childhood obesity that includes, among many other facets, a push for more gardens in schools like the one she helped plant on the White House grounds. It also includes support for reauthorization of the Childhood Nutrition Act still pending before Congress.

There is much more the Federal Government could do, though. While the CNA includes an extra dime per meal in Federal funding of school lunches, it should be more like a dollar. As I pointed out in this space once before:

That works out to about $5.4B annually. That's one-half-of-one-percent of the US military's projected 2010 budget. So, seeing that we spend as much as the next 14 nations combined on our military, I suggest that we spend only as much as the next 13, fully fund our school nutrition programs, and wait to see if number 14 (Australia) tries to invade us.

In addition, the authority for implanting the School Lunch program should be moved from the USDA, where it is currently little more than a dumping ground for Big Ag's industrially-produced surplus, to a joint effort between the Department of Education and HHS, who are more likely to put the health of our children ahead of Tyson's bottom line.