Healthy grocer Sprouts Farmers Market is accelerating the school garden movement with its inaugural Growing School Gardens Summit, to be held April 22-25 in Denver. Hosted by the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation, the first-ever national gathering focused entirely on school gardens will unite more than 400 educators and leaders from across the country working to sustain school garden programs at the school, regional and national level. These educators — and the nonprofit organizations they represent — operate learning gardens at more than 6,000 school campuses, providing hands-on nutrition, science and academic instruction to an estimated 2.5 million students each year.
The summit comes at a time when evidence backing the benefits of student participation in school garden programming is leading more schools to invest in the creation of these outdoor learning spaces than ever before. In October 2021, the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation even provided $3 million in grants to 115 nonprofit organizations to improve school garden learning and nutrition education.
“Sprouts is committed to improving children’s nutrition education, and we believe our investment in school garden education is one of the best tools available to advance this mission,” said Lyndsey Waugh, executive director of the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation. “Hosting the Growing School Gardens Summit is an opportunity to level up our impact by focusing on how we can empower school garden educators, understanding that through this support we will have an even greater and lasting impact on students.”
Starting on Earth Day, April 22, the four-day summit will include more than 115 workshop sessions and lightning talks led by school garden professionals. There will be field experiences to explore Denver’s school garden scene, an Emerging Leaders program to support young professionals in the field, and networking opportunities. Keynote speaker Jose Gonzales, founder and director emeritus of Latino Outdoors, will be in attendance, along with special guest DJ Cavem, Grammy-nominated eco-hiphop artist and culinary climate-action ambassador, who will serve as event emcee for a plant-based dinner planned in collaboration with four local student culinary programs.
“The number of organizations using gardens as learning spaces continues to grow each year and, with this, comes a greater demand for teacher training and peer-to-peer learning,” said John Fisher, program and partnerships director for Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Life Lab and a co-founder of the School Garden Support Organization Network, a professional learning community of more than 4,500 educators. “The summit provides this space and also raises awareness for the effectiveness of school gardens in teaching children that establishing healthy eating habits early in life will lead to better health outcomes as they become adults.”
To remove the financial barrier of attending the summit, 25% of all attendees are receiving scholarship assistance. Scholarships totaling $65,000 have been awarded with support from The Republic of Tea, a Novato, Calif.-based tea company that has backed Sprouts’ school garden programs since 2018.
Since its inception in 2015, the Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation has granted $15 million to more than 300 nonprofit partners that have brought hands-on, garden-based learning to 1.5 million children and provided nutrition education programs to an estimated 900,000 K-12 students. Sprouts covers all of the foundation’s operational expenses.
Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market, which employs approximately 31,000 team members at more than 370 stores in 23 states, is No. 48 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2021 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.