Student-based, farmer-advised sustainable food systems curriculum: A collaborative approach for developing and assessing agricultural education in elementary schools

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $13,877.00
Projected End Date: 12/01/2020
Grant Recipients: UW-Madison; College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UW-Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Julie Dawson
University of Wisconsin-Madison


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: participatory research, youth education
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, partnerships, social capital, social networks


    Initially, we sought to create a model for participatory curriculum creation with the potential to unite farmers and community members to build a more cohesive, sustainable food system. We aimed to use community resources to improve food systems literacy in the Gompers Elementary School community in Madison, Wisconsin. In the fall and winter of 2019 and 2020 we began creating curriculum, shaped by a committee of farmers and community members. This curriculum included field trips to local farms which we executed in the fall of 2019 and experiential learning opportunities in the classroom which were planned for the spring of 2020. We aimed to finalize this curriculum and evaluation tools with the help of teachers and students in the spring of 2020. 

    However, with the spread of COVID-19, we were unable to finalize the curriculum and evaluation tools. We dramatically pivoted the project to meet community identified needs during this time. We partnered with the school’s principal to ask families and teachers what their priorities were after the school district closed in March. Parents, guardians, teachers and staff identified multiple priorities including access to fresh fruit and vegetables and at-home education opportunities for the entire household. Using this feedback, we created a survey for interested community members to describe their environment for growing food, what they would be interested in growing, what tools they have available to them, and how they would be interested in learning about gardening. Forty-five families signed up for the Gompers Grows Garden Kit program and we delivered kits with a variety of seeds, seedlings, soil, and tools. Each kit was catered to the survey respondent’s growing environment and preferences. We created weekly blog and video content to guide families along with bi-weekly formative evaluation surveys. At the end of the project, we evaluated the program by sending out a summative survey and interviewing five parents via Zoom about their experience. 

    Even through the collaborative process to create and evaluate was halted, we were still able to create a network of farmers, students, and community members to build social and cultural capital in the Gompers Elementary School community. Short term learning outcomes included increasing community and student knowledge of the local food system through place-based experiential curriculum. We conducted a formative survey, respondents (parents and guardians) noted that students gained more agency and responsibility during the course of the project. Forty-five families had improved access to locally grown vegetables and fruits. Furthermore, our surveys and interviews indicated that participants were able to share resources and knowledge, creating a network of gardeners in the Gompers Elementary School neighborhood. 

    Long term outcomes of this project include fostering a multigeneration community of gardeners in the Gompers Elementary school neighborhood and a community-wide commitment to the Gompers Grows program in future years. Additionally, by providing the opportunity for students to grow their confidence and experience in growing food, we hope for students to see sustainable agriculture as a career pathway. 

    It was hard to choose one beneficiary outcome story from our interviews. One of the most meaningful quotes came from a parent who stated that the Gompers Grows kit not only provided learning opportunities but also built her children's "confidence and their sense of power, there is so much in the world that can make you feel helpless. So this was something that we could actually do with our hands and see a change." 

    Project objectives:

    Learning outcomes: The Gompers Grows Garden Kit project addressed issues of food access and self-determination by providing opportunities for community members to engage in growing their own food. Community members gained experiential understanding of the concept of sustainable agriculture. Community members learned about how their food is grown and harvested, fostering an appreciation of farmers. 

    Action outcomes: This process created a network of farmers, students, and community members to build social and cultural capital. Community members and students grew vegetables and fruit. Community members built community learning networks with other Gompers Grows Garden Kit recipients, family members and neighbors. Community members were able to communicate more effectively and change behavior reflecting sustainability principles learning. We hope that future surveys will show that students continue engage with sustainable agriculture through Gompers Grows and seek out careers in sustainable agriculture. 

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.