Do you have a school garden or want to start one? Would you like to use the produce from the garden in your cafeteria? We can help! The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) School Garden Program can help get you on your way to a bountiful harvest. ADHS offer free services that include helping design your garden, checking your soil for lead, and issuing a certificate to use your harvest in your school cafeteria. Certification is recognized by local county health departments and developed to make it easy to bring your school garden produce into the cafeteria. Certification is based upon the ADHS School Garden Guidelines (http://azhealth.gov/ops/oacr/rules/documents/guidance/gd-105-phs-edc.pdf)
Applying to participate in the School Garden Program is easy. The first step is to submit an application to the School Garden Sanitarian by visiting the website at http://www.azhealth.gov/phs/oeh/fses/school-garden/index.php. The School Garden Sanitarian will contact the school after receiving the completed application to explain the approval process, which includes having a food safety plan and, in some cases, testing of soil for lead contamination. A comprehensive food safety plan must address five components: water source; soil composition and amendments; gardener hygiene and illness; produce contact surfaces; and location. Soil testing is performed by the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory at no cost to the school. In addition, the School Garden Sanitarian can free provide assistance with the design of the garden, development of the food safety plan, and facilitating the testing of soil. The School Garden Sanitarian can also provide free in-person training to interested schools and school districts on the steps necessary to become certified. In addition to approving school gardens, the School Garden Program has a process for the approval of school produced compost and rainwater harvesting. The School Garden Program has online forms that are easy to fill out and send.
School Gardens help students develop healthy eating habits through sensory learning. Coupled with nutrition education, students exposed to learning where their food comes from often find a new appreciation for fresh fruits and vegetables in their most natural form. Start planning now for this coming fall harvest by submitting a free application and the School Garden Sanitarian will contact you to set up a meeting to answer your questions and assist you with the approval process. The School Garden Sanitarian can be reached by email at SchoolGarden@azdhs.gov.
This is a terrific community resource, we will keep it in mind for our next school project.