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It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden

It's our gardenIt’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden

Written by George Ancona
Published by Candlewick Press in 2013
ISBN 978-0-7636-5392-7
All Ages
Book Review
Reading, writing, and… radishes? Yes, at Acequia Madre Elementary School in Santa Fe New Mexico. Photo-essayist George Ancona invites the reader to experience a year alongside children, their teachers, parents and community members as they work, learn, and play together in a vibrant courtyard garden. Ancona’s insightful photographs depict the carefully designed space, illustrate the processes of gardening, and capture the intensity and joy of the gardeners. Clear and engaging text elaborates the images, and readers will gain a sense of the cyclical nature of gardening, the hard work involved, and the many rewards reaped by the gardeners. Throughout the book, Ancona highlights the integration of school curriculum with gardening activities; a teacher seeking a compelling argument for the establishment of a school garden need look no further than this book. An added bonus, student artwork provides a wonderful complement to carefully placed photo images and generous white space. So sit back, imagine moist earth on your fingertips, and dig in. This delectable offering is truly food for the soul.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom
Grades 1 and Up
Duet Model Reading. Pair a reading of It’s Our Garden with a reading of Robin Gourley’s The White House Garden and How it Grew in a Duet Model (see our Teaching with Text Sets entry for a description of the Duet model).  Compare the origins, goals, and outcomes of the creation of each garden. Be sure to compare the photographs on the back of each dust jacket! If possible, select a local garden, either at your school, in your community, or at a local historical site or museum. Interview the garden’s caretakers to learn the story of how and why this garden was established and how it is cared for. If time allows, work with your students to co-author a story about the local garden you have come to know.
Learning Fruits and Vegetables. At harvest time, Miss Sue challenges the students at Acequia Madre School to identify the fruits of their labors, asking student to name the foods they have grown. She places the names of the foods on slips of papers face down so that students can check their answers. Over a period of time, introduce your students to new vegetables and fruits, allowing them to touch, smell, taste, and describe the foods. Then, have a quiz in the style of Miss Sue. April Pulley Sayre’s wonderful nonfiction picture books, Rah, Rah, Radishes! and Go, Go, Grapes! make great read-alouds for this activity.
The Photo Essay. It’s Our Garden is a striking example of creative formatting in a photo essay. The integration of children’s art makes the book unusual and the placement and shape of the images makes it a stand-out. Pair this book with another gardening photo essay, Watch Me Grow: A Down-to-Earth Look at Growing Food in the City and discuss the choices authors and photographer make when crafting a photo essay. Look at other photo essays written by George Ancona, for example, Come and Eat. How do the visual images work to enhance the messages of the text? Use It’s Our Garden as a mentor text for student-created texts about an aspect of your school. The school garden is a unique feature of the Acequia Madre School – what is unique about your school?
Garden Helpers. Child-drawn images of bees, butterflies, and ladybugs adorn the end papers of It’s Our Garden.  The text describes the roles that insects and worms play in supporting plant growth in the garden. Learn more about creatures beneficial to the garden by reading from books such as Bug Shots: The Good, The Bad, and the Bugly, The Beetle Book, The Honeybee Man, Ladybugs, and Yucky Worms. Students could work in small groups to become experts on different types of creature garden helpers, sharing their findings with classmates.
Calendar of Gardening. Read It’s Our Garden, Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in our BackyardAnd Then It’s Spring, And the Good Brown Earth, Up We Grow; A Year In The Life of a Small, Local Farm and Planting the Wild Garden to help your students begin to understand the seasonal / cyclical nature of gardening.  Work together to create a calendar with images and words depicting the changes that a garden undergoes over time and representing the tasks and activities of gardening related to each season. Your calendar could take the form of a large mural, a class big book, or a Voice Thread or Power Point presentation.
Garden Design. In the garden at Acequai Madre Elementary school, students make adobe bricks to build garden beds. They also make use of Native American methods of planting, creating a three-sisters planting bed for corn, pinto beans and squash. Garden design must be functional, but ideally, is also aesthetically pleasing. Invite a local horticultural expert or community garden leader to visit or skype with your class to discuss garden design practices. Collect images of different gardens to display for your students and note differences in similarities in design. Ask students to demonstrate their learning by drawing their own ideal garden, providing a written explanation of how their design is well suited to support plant growth.
Grades 3 and Up.
Local Foods Movement. Invite your students to learn more about the local foods movement in the context of an inquiry into where the food they eat comes from. Discuss the terms local, sustainable, and global in relation to food growing practices and economics. Do a little local research of your own to identify food growers of various types in your area. Are there any CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) in the area? Invite local farmers, beekeepers, bakers, etc. to come talk to your class about their work. What are the reasons that someone would go to the trouble to seek out a local vendor and possibly pay more for the product (you could do some cost comparison between the farmer’s market and the local supermarket and/or a taste test comparison between veggies obtained at a farmer’s market vs. the supermarket)? The Sustainable Table website may be of use to you in this investigation.  Also see our entry on The Honeybee Man at for more teaching ideas related local food sources.
Social Justice
Gardening and Healthy Food Choices. Read a collection of texts that make the connection between healthy eating and gardening, such as: The Good Garden: How One Family Went From Hunger to Having Enough, The White House Garden and How it Grew, Watch Me Grow: A Down-to-Earth Look at Growing Food in the City, and It’s Our Garden. Ask students to keep track of the number of fresh fruits and vegetables that they are able to eat during a week. Chris Butterworth’s How Did That Get in My Lunchbox?: The Story of Food  is a good resource to support conversations about the sources of our food. Older students may be interested in reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat. For an even more in depth exploration, have students watch the trailer for the documentary film A Place at the Table: One Nation. Underfed and launch an inquiry into the problem of child hunger in our country.
Further Explorations
Online Resources
George Ancona
Acequia Madre School Garden
Center for Ecoliteracy
Life Lab
REAL School Gardens
San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance
Slow Food International
Slow Food USA
White House Garden Video Tour
CNN: Inside the White House Garden: A Conversation with White House Chef Sam Kass
Trailer: Documentary: A Place at the Table
Local Harvest
The Sustainable Table
The Edible Schoolyard
Farm to School
Stone Barns Center
Farm Service Agency: Kids
Oregon State University Extension Service: Bank of Beneficial Beetles
The Great Plant Escape: All About Seeds
Science of Gardening
Seed Dispersal: How Seeds Spread
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Butterworth, C. (2011). How did that get in my lunchbox?: The story of food. Ill. by L. Gaggiotti. Summerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
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Gibbons, G. (2012). Ladybugs. New York: Holiday House.
Gibbons, G. (1991). From seed to plant. New York: Holiday House.
Galbraith, K.O. (2011). Planting the wild garden. Ill. by W.A. Halperin. New York: Peachtree Books.
Gourley, R. (2011). The White House garden and how it grew. XXXX: Clarion Books.
Henderson, K. (2008). And the good brown earth. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Henkes, K. (2010). My garden. New York: Greenwillow.
Hodge, D. (2011). Watch me grow: A down-to-earth look at growing food in the city. Photos by B. Harris. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.
Hodge, D. (2010). Up we grow: A year in the life of a small, local farm. Photos by B. Harris. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.
Jenkins, S. (2012). The beetle book. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Katzen, M. (2005). Salad people and more real recipes: A new cookbook for preschoolers and up. Berkley, CA: Tricycle Press.
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Milway, K.S. (2010). The good garden: How one family went from hunger to having enough. Ill. by S. Daigneault. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.
Nargi, L. (2011). The honeybee man. Ill. by K. Brooker. New York: Schwartz and Wade.
Pollen, M. (2009).The omnivore’s dilemma: The secrets behind what you eat.  Adapted by R. Chevat. New York: Dial Books.
Sayre, A.P. (2011). Rah, rah, radishes!: A vegetable chant. New York: Beach Lane Books.
Sayre, A.P. (2012). Go, go, grapes!: A fruit chant. New York: Beach Lane Books.
Schuh, M.S. (2010). All kinds of gardens. Mankato, Minn: Capstone Press.
Schuh, M.S. (2010). Growing a garden. Mankato, Minn: Capstone Press.
Siy, A. (2011). Bug shots: The good, the bad, and the bugly!. Photos by D. Kunkel. New York: Holiday House.
Swann, R. (2012). Our school garden. Ill. by C. Hale. Belleview, WA: Readers to Eaters.
Voake, S. (2010). Insect detective. Ill. C. Voake. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Waters, A. (1992). Fanny at Chez Panisse. Ill. A. Arnold. New York: HarperCollins.
Zoehfeld, K. W. (2012). Secrets of the garden: Food chains and the food web in our backyard. Ill. by P. Lamott. New York: Knopf.

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.