Our Philosophy

At Sage Garden Project, our guiding principles surround the belief that every child deserves the opportunity to plant a seed, watch it grow, taste it fresh, prepare it as part of a delicious meal and compost the scraps to continue the cycle of life. The lessons learned through these experiences range far beyond science and testing a hypothesis. In the garden and cooking classroom, all subjects come alive. From reading, math and ecology to art, history, geography, and culture, the garden and cooking classroom provides an accessible space where all subjects can be taught and all students can be successful. This occurs while students build practical life skills, develop lifelong healthful habits and strengthen food sovereignty within themselves and their communities.

To support these outcomes, Sage Garden Project is committed to funding dedicated garden & cooking instructors through our awards. With a dedicated instructor, students experience the pride of ownership that maintaining a school garden provides and the sense of accomplishment from preparing food to share with others. This also allows classrooms to have consistent, year-long programming without adding extra responsibility for the classroom teacher. 

When a school is ready to take this step to establish a robust garden & cooking program with a dedicated instructor to teach students as part of the school day, we see transformative change happen. Students become more open to a variety of foods and start thinking about the effects of what they are eating and the actions they are taking. We can see that they are preparing themselves for a more nourishing, mindful and sustainable tomorrow.

Why Have Gardens in Schools? 

Gardens are outdoor science labs that provide hands-on, experiential, next generation science standards (NGSS) aligned learning about everything from seasons and botany to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In the garden classroom, students are taught regenerative and sustainable methods for growing food while taking care of the earth. With the higher than ever need to focus on social and emotional learning, the garden fosters time for calm observation and reflection

Research shows, and we are working to collect evidence, that Garden & Cooking programs:

Increased student preference and willingness to try fruits and vegetables.

Improved social and emotional capacity in students.

Increase student attendance on regularly-scheduled garden days.

Boost student acceptance of nutritious school lunch options, including salad bar offerings.

Why Every Garden Program Should Include Cooking, Too!

The expectation of our youth today is that they make nutritious food choices whether in the school cafeteria or in the real world, but there is little to no education to teach them how. That’s why Sage Garden Project maintains that a garden program isn’t complete without also teaching students how to taste and prepare the foods they are growing. We believe that if students are provided a safe place to try new foods and learn basic cooking skills, they will be encouraged and empowered to create beneficial life-long habits.

Wild Wisdom Curriculum

Sage Garden Project has developed original Garden & Cooking lessons for K-5 elementary students called the Wild Wisdom Gardening & Cooking Curriculum. Our goal, first and foremost, was to create a curriculum for ALL learners to build and practice gardening and cooking skills. These skills serve as the foundation for students to understand & experience the world around them as well as to nourish their bodies and share their bounty with others. Each lesson is designed to incorporate the philosophies of inquiry-based, experiential and reflective learning and are aligned with NGSS and Common Core standards.

“Overall, SGP’s Wild Wisdom curriculum reduced the challenges of implementing a school garden based curriculum and made it possible to implement standards-based lessons across grade levels to all classes and students.”

– Lakeside Farms Elementary Cooking & Garden Instructor

The Wild Wisdom curriculum is unique for several reasons:

Each lesson is designed to be taught to ALL grades. Within the lesson, there are activities/recipes that are scaled in level of difficulty by carrots. One carrot is the most simple activity/recipe while 4 carrots is more challenging. The educator will choose the activity/recipe based on the knowledge & abilities of the students, supplies and time they have allotted for classes.

There are six Garden and six Cooking units, each with three lessons per unit. Every Garden lesson has a complimentary Cooking lesson, which reinforces skills, concepts, and content. Ideally, the complimentary garden and cooking lessons will be taught in succession for maximum impact.

Units, although numbered, can be taught in any order. The school year will always begin with the Intro Lesson and end with the Feast Lesson. It encourages instructors to plan their lessons around what is growing in the garden so that they can best utilize the harvest, which brings greater connection between the garden and cooking lessons and helps with food costs.

Also included on each lesson is a Deeper Connections page which links the lesson to Literacy Connections, Nutrition Connections, Cultural Connections as well as English Language Learner (ELL) & Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Connections to address the whole child and produce maximum impact of learning, connection and growth.

Research Project

As we grow support for school garden & nutrition education, our main goal is for every elementary school in California to have access to sustainable funding for these types of programs.

How do we do this?

With support from Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation and our university sponsor Occidental College, we at Sage Garden Project are investing in 15 of our Clairemont San Diego Unified School District schools for a project we’re calling the “Community Density Deep Dive.” We’re hoping to add to the body of research that reveals the positive outcomes that come from student participation in growing and cooking food at school.

Emalyn Leppard

Garden Coordinator

Brendan McCormack

Cooking Coordinator

Judey Petix

Regional Trainer

Based on conversations with stakeholders at the state, district and community level, we have chosen four outcomes to measure:

Willingness to try new fruits and vegetables

School attendance

Participation in school lunch

Social and emotional learning opportunities to all learners

Data will be collected on a yearly basis and findings will be used to advocate for funding farm to school programs for all CA elementary schools!

Our Showcase School

Ocean Knoll Elementary

In 2011, we piloted our first Sage Garden Project gardening & cooking program at Ocean Knoll elementary school in Encinitas, California. Since then, this Title 1 school has served as our site of experimentation where we pilot our programs, curriculum and new ideas. With the incredible support of students, staff, and the Ocean Knoll community, this site has evolved into a showcase of the many possible forms a school gardening & cooking program can take.

Ocean Knoll has it all: a small after school club garden, a 5 bed kindergarten garden, a school landscape planter that has become a herb garden for the cooking classes, a 24 bed school garden and outdoor classroom, and a 1 acre farm complete with 6 lovely chickens. Ocean Knoll has two full-time credentialed dedicated garden & cooking instructors, each teaching 24 classes per week. These instructor positions are supported financially by Sage Garden Project, the PTA and Encinitas Union School District. In addition to these two roles, the PTA also supports a part-time farm coordinator. Our showcase school is meant to inspire schools to adopt the size and scope of a gardening & cooking program that is realistic for their school, community, and staff. 

Our Impact

100+ grow/cook programs supported

14.6 million donated since 2011

13 years serving California

100+ garden & cooking instructors trained