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It’s Never Too Late to Look Back


Someone recently said something to me that makes complete sense.

“You’re not marketing for business today or tomorrow.  You did that months and years ago. You’re marketing today for business months and years from now.”

Didn’t we leave a generation or two of potential gardeners out of our current picture?

There are a vast number of people who grew up in suburbia, or disengaged from gardening. Most of us got an interest in gardening from a parent, grandparent, or other relative. (Some of you ended up with the whole business from them!)

But most of our non garden industry friends were left behind and in turn their offshoots have also been left behind because their parents and grandparents didn’t turn them on to gardening.Looking back on our error of omission is painful now. We should have seen this coming, and we should have done something about it. Where would we be if the garden industry had done a better job cultivating our future customers, who would now be our customers today?

What if we don’t cultivate tomorrow’s customers now?

Roberta Paolo, aka "Granny"

With those questions I’d like to introduce to you my friend and self adopted “granny”, Roberta Paolo, the founder and director of Granny’s Garden School located in Loveland, an exurb located northeast of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Nearly a year ago Granny invited me to get involved on her board of directors. I did some checking and found one part of her program to be particularly intriguing, and that is the Schoolyard Nature Network. You’ll hear more about that from me as time goes on.

For now, I’d like to have you read a blog post that Granny wrote for a Washington D.C. area education blog.

School gardens are all the rage right now.  Judging by what is going on in the Greater Cincinnati Area where I am located, there have to be thousands of new programs being launched across the country this year.

The combination of the impact from the book Last Child in the Woods and the resulting groundswell of concern that led to the grassroots development of the organization “Leave No Child Inside” along with the rising problem with obesity in children and the concern about global warming topped off by the establishment of a garden on the grounds of the White House has resulted in an explosion of interest in developing school garden programs.

This is both good and bad.  At this time and in the next couple of years a lot of money will be invested in school garden programs.  Most of this money will be spent to buy “stuff,”  It will be used to build raised beds, buy rain barrels, grow labs, curriculum and lesson plans and install green houses and/or hoop houses, install rain gardens and buy all kinds of “kits”.  There are more companies everyday offering tools, garden boxes, over-priced kits and other supplies targeted to educators with school garden grant money to spend.  Could you use a folding fabric wheel barrel ($70) or how about the Potato Planter, $29.95 (It’s basically three heavy plastic bags about the size and shape of a 5 gallon bucket (soil and potatoes not included).

Very little, if any, of the millions of dollars will be spent to pay people to run the programs.  When the person with the passion whose enthusiasm powered the garden initiative can no longer volunteer or moves on for whatever reason, the program will die and the grounds people, who are left with the mess to clean up, will be there to say, “I told you so.”   This will make it that much more difficult to get administrators to take a chance the next time a person with a passion comes along with an idea to enrich the school experience for our children.

Starting a school garden program is the easy part and it does not have to take a lot of money (We ran our program the first year on less than $200. You do not need much “stuff” and you can get almost everything you need donated.) Starting a garden program can be as simple as digging a hole and planting a seed.  The real challenge is in sustaining it. If you are up to the challenge, it could be the most rewarding thing you ever do.

Next: Where to start – Identifying the resources at hand.

Roberta Paolo (aka Granny)

With that, I’d like to let you know now that YOU might be one of the resources at hand. This choice will be up to you of course, but if you want to learn from our look backward where we left a generation of two of people who could have been gardeners and bigger consumers of all our industry has to offer then you might consider it.

Here’s how you can get involved and market for your own better future.

The Schoolyard Nature Network will be training teams from school garden education programs again beginning in June 2011. Keep your ear to the ground for someone in your area who would be interested in this training (if you don’t know them already). Consider setting aside some money in your 2011 budget to sponsor a team to attend the School Garden Training Camps. These folks would be the key to creating the next generation of gardeners right there in your own community.

Are you willing to do this to build the market for your own future?

19 Responses

  1. I have been preaching this for a very long time..

  2. Going to use the quote..with your permission…Roy

  3. Yes Roy. Sponsor a team from Aruba! Then once a school garden program is established there they can teach it from there.

  4. I’m not sure who to attribute it to. Use -unknown until someone speaks up.

  5. This is a great idea! Keep us in the loop on this one, please!

  6. You’re in Lynn. I’ll send an update out when they post the registration information for the summer sessions.

  7. Great post, Sid!!! We support a myriad of community gardens in our area, as well as programs for the ‘challenged’. The unfortunate reality is that schools build ridiculously expensive kits and structures that don’t work—and of course they never asked the people in their community who actually are experts BEFORE investing. We put our effort into showing the WHY of gardens, not so much the HOW. Have a kid smell a fresh herb or eat a snappy fresh organic lettuce of green and you see the light go on. But…to say this invests for years down the road is only partially true—they will go home and tell their parent, hopefully, and get them away from watching American Idol and outdoors in the soil.

  8. Great post.

    I read it right before heading out last night on the way to an Extension dinner/meeting last night. I sat across the table from an individual that has been working with local elementary schools on gardening projects.

    Apparently last year, several schools in the area got some grant money to be used to teach kids about gardening. They spent it all on some kind of state of the art hydroponic/vertical gardening setup. The money is now all gone, they now have some kind of apparatus that looks like it came for the space station and they are now finally realizing that they still don’t have a clue how to teach kids about gardening. Now they are desparate to find “volunteers” to come into the class room to teach the kids and the teachers so they can accomplish their original goal of teaching gardening.

    The desire to learn and participate in gardening is out there. We just need to keep culitivating it.

  9. I want to give Granny (Roberta) a big hug. I’m PTA president this year, and have spent a lot of time in the school garden. Our garden is several years old. Seems like there’s tons of interest in school gardens when they’re new. Wow! The ribbon-cutting! Wow! Look at the new STUFF! Etc., etc. But we all know a garden is a living thing that must be tended. Ongoing upkeep doesn’t always earn volunteers/sponsors a moment in the spotlight. I worry about all the new school gardens going up because I personally know what a challenge it is to keep them in shape years down the road. School gardens need help from local independent garden centers. Ongoing assistance might not get your picture in the local paper. But it serves a bigger purpose: Cultivating a new generation of gardeners.

    P.S. The wish list for our school garden includes some new shrubs–Texas sage would do well. (Hint, hint.) Some drought-tolerant perennials would be great to fill in one bed that has become sparse.

  10. Sarah, It may be a bit hokey but this Granny is for real and she gives and gets a big hug every time I see her. She’ll tell you that the key is that there must be some money raised to pay staff to supplement the volunteer efforts. That is not what people want to do, and most grants don’t want money to go to that but it is the absolute key to sustainable success. This Granny knows what she’s talking about.

  11. Some things to consider.

    All activities have to be connected to state standards for teachers to give you the time with their students.

    To Sarah: Buy perennial seeds and have students grow the perennials for your gardens. While they are at it, plant lots of seeds of flowers that a good for bouquets (zinna, cosmos, celosia, etc.). Then, start a Pick-a-Bouquet Club – make a $35 donation and you can pick 12 bouquets of 24 stems throughout the season. Yes, it’s a great deal – maybe you could get more, maybe not, but the point is to get people attached to the gardens as much as it is to raise money.

  12. Have you heard of the Pizza Hut ‘Book it Program’? If the kids read so many books in a given period of time they get a free personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut.

    During the last 6 weeks of the ‘Book it program’ in the spring we give the kids a free plant if they get their books read. They get a coupon from their teacher that they must bring to the store in the month of May.

    The first year we did this even my own kids were excited about getting ‘Their Own Free Plant’ at The Green Haus.

  13. This is truly wonderful. We helped start a community garden last year and are in the process of connecting to the school system.

    The energy I felt from reading the articles and the responses I will share with my hard working volunteers and the Superintendent at our upcoming meeting. This will help us link the two and get 2011 off to a positive start.


  14. Thanks for the feedback Chris. Keeping volunteers inspired is so important. Keeping the project on track is difficult. Granny’s experiences with what works and what doesn’t are invaluable. People have only so much patience to throw their time and money at something if it is continually encountering problems. Granny is fortunate to have had the personal tenacity to keep on working at it. Avoiding the mistakes is one key to making it easier and therefore a sustainable effort. We don’t need to get just a few kids to learn how to garden, we need all of them to now and in future generations. Let’s not be fooled into thinking one generation will teach the others behind them again.

  15. I have been to Granny’s events and really enjoy them. More power to Granny

  16. Tim, I love the idea of giving a child a plant for reading a book!! May I borrow it?

  17. With your blog in mind, I made donations of soils and plants for a school project today with the true understanding of why it is so important. Thanks Sid.

  18. Way to go Victor. Thanks for the feedback. Knowing I made a difference in this way is all I need. I pass it along to to Granny who is making a difference and inspiring all of us by showing us that this really can be done and sustained. I talked with the Superintendent of my own school district about getting a local school garden program going and he was very positive about it. I think sometimes we just think no one would want to do what we’d like to see done, but all that is needed is a “starter” to take the first step. (A concept/lesson learned from my very wise 93-year old former neighbor.)

  19. See the Today’s Garden Center article on Granny’s Garden School at:

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