Grow It Know It

The Thompson Lab has received a USDA NIFA Grant (no. 2018-68010-27672) to develop and pilot professional development for K-12 teachers and nutrition staff to improve education focused on food safety, nutrition, and health through hands-on, experiential, garden and food based teaching and learning. We partnered with Barrow County School District to pilot this training program.

Impact Statement:

Since its initiation in 2018, the Grow It Know It (GIKI) Training Program has provided approximately 136 hours of professional development for over 78 educators (teachers, school nutrition staff, and others ) interested in creating or expanding farm-to-school programs at their schools. The Grow It Know It professional development programming included four three-day summer intensive trainings, five full day school-year trainings, and personalized mentorship to support educators with cross-curricular food and garden-based learning. Through our efforts to support educators in implementing their professional development, we have also provided personalized curriculum consulting and provided the materials and expertise to help teachers (and their students) plan and install school gardens. In the final two years of the project, we also expanded to training Extension personnel on our model, to support further dissemination. We held two ‘train the trainer’ sessions (one in 2022 and in 2023), which reached 20 Extension personnel.

Project evaluation and research find changes in knowledge, action, and condition:

(a) Changes in knowledge:

– Our work demonstrates that an asset-based community development framework can be effective for FTS professional development.

– We find that professional development can increase educators’ confidence across a wide range of FTS topics (e.g. soil management, garden management, garden- and food-based instruction, food safety, etc.). Specifically, educators shared that the GIKI program providing them with critical space and time to integrate and make curricular connections, as well as to set goals and identify action plans for their own programs.

– We also find that educators face persistent barriers implementing FTS that cannot be overcome with professional development alone. This includes limited time, resources, and personnel—all of which make building a FTS team and sustaining a FTS program difficult.

– Finally, we identify several recommendations to enhance future school garden/FTS professional development. We recommend that FTS professional development programs: (1) use an asset-based community development framework to identify/draw upon existing networks and resources; (2) enhance summer/intensive trainings by providing ongoing support throughout the school year; (3) allocate funding for personnel to support school gardens and classroom programs; (4) expand by-in among school administrators for educators to participate in professional development via written approval and funding to support their participation.

– In a follow-up study with a subset of educators who had participated in the GIKI training, we found that despite persistent barriers, educators continued to feel confident and motivated to engage in FTS due to positive experiences with students and their own personal connections to agriculture and gardening. Notably, participants in this study emphasized drawing on the GIKI training as a source of confidence, knowledge about gardening and the food system, and connection with networks in their local communities. By engaging in ongoing FTS practice, educators expanded their self-efficacy related to this work.

(b) Changes in action:

– Our evaluation and subsequent research demonstrate that educators are implementing what they have learned in the GIKI training — in their school gardens, in their classrooms, and in building networks within their local communities.

– Educators observe that implementing food and garden-based learning has increased students’ confidence in the classroom, as well as students’ pride in their work and willingness to try new activities, such as participating in a taste test with garden produce.

(c) Changes in condition:

– This project resulted in the development and implementation of curriculum and materials to support educators implementing garden- and food-based learning. The GIKI model and training materials are based on an assets-based community development framework—which is community-led, relationship driven, and emphasizes reliance on existing assets in the community. The model used active/experiential learning and specifically made time for participants to observe successful models, followed by reflection and planning to integrate new knowledge/skills into practice.

– This project also resulted in the development and implementation of curriculum/materials to support county-level Extension personnel to train and support educators interested in garden- and food-based learning in their counties.

– Educators who participated in our professional development reported expanded self-efficacy in their ability to implement garden and food based learning.

– The program was also successful in supporting and creating networks (or communities of practice) among stakeholders—including educators, school communities, as well as local governmental and non-governmental agencies—which were valuable in securing both financial and human resources for their school gardens and farm-to-school programs.

*For more information, please see Evans, EC. 2022. Farm to School Professional Development: From Program to Classroom. University of Georgia Thesis.