Resource management for your school garden part 1

Take advantage of the many opportunities to grow your school garden

Flowerbeds in a greenhouse
Photo by Kaitlin Wojciak

If you’ve been involved with a school garden, the “why?” of growing these programs is likely no mystery to you. The impact of messy hands, hard work and fresh veggies is unquestionable to those who have seen the excitement and influence of these experiences in school gardens. The question that comes up in growing and sustaining a school garden is often rather “how?”. Acquiring the resources and funding for your garden programs can seem daunting and confusing, even to those who have experience in these areas.

There are many opportunities and options available to help with the “how” of sustaining and growing your garden program, and it is helpful to know as much as possible about what these options are. This article will describe several options and avenues for funding your programs to help you take advantage of these funding opportunities.

When talking about funding for any organization of nonprofit, the conversation often turns quickly to a conversation of grant opportunities. Part one of this article will focus mostly on these opportunities and discuss some things to consider when considering grants.

It is no wonder why granted funding is heavily focused on in nonprofit funding, as these awards are often large sums of money and can be highly beneficial when received. However, the application process for these opportunities are often in-depth and highly involved. If you are seeking grant funding for your program, it may be helpful to do some research on the parts of a grant application and the requirements. Edible Schoolyard Project, and The Balance Small Business: Grants are both great places to start for this type of exploration.

Due to the in-depth nature of grant writing, it may also be helpful to be selective in which grant applications you embark on. Being familiar with what grants are available is one way of knowing your options and will let you choose only the opportunities that work for you and your goals as a program. These pages keep track of places that provide grant funding to school gardens and may be useful to use as a resource: KidsGardening, Slow Food USA, Wisconsin School Garden NetworkThe Foundation Center may also be a beneficial resource, as this site helps in locating funding as well as researching the history of funding opportunities. Using this resource may help you decide if your project fits the requirements of funding by seeing what sort of projects the grant typically funds.

Another consideration when selecting which grants to apply for is the type and source of the grant. There are several types of grants that may vary in award amount, availability, ease of application, and formality. It may be helpful to learn the differences between these types of grants to better recognize what you are coming across in your search.

  • Government Grants: Federal, State, and Local governments offer grants to a variety of different organizations for a variety of purposes. Some of these grants may be applicable to your garden program. However, these grants can be large, lengthy, and have an involved application process. They may require an extensive amount of information on the organization, as well as the formalized statements of credibility and information about the project. While the award amount is often higher, the scale of some may be larger than the capacity of your program.
  • Private Foundations: Corporate foundations may have structures to give donations. Many of these foundations are willing to give funding to groups working to benefit the community, and therefore may be interested in supporting your school garden. These applications may be less formal with a more modest award amount.
  • Public or Community Foundations: These foundations aggregate the funds of many donors and can provide grants, scholarships or services. Some have a particular focus if they are donor-advised, and may have a focus that aligns with your garden program.

When considering grants from these different sources, it is important to recognize the trade-offs that are made between grant sizes and sources. Larger grants may have a more formal, involved application process while smaller grants may be more accessible to your grant-writing skills yet provide a relatively smaller award.

Lastly, in considering any grant, it is important to keep the goals and mission of your program in mind. Doing research on the grant source to ensure your goals are in-line will not only help strengthen the goals of your organization and keep them from swaying to appeal to donors, but will also help you find grant sources more likely to fund your application. An organization who supports your program and its goals is more likely grant funds to your garden than an organization who has no interest in your mission.

While granting opportunities can be highly beneficial and are often the main focus of nonprofit funding, there are many viable and accessible opportunities that can help you grow and sustain you school garden programs. Part two of this article will explore some of these options, as well as highlight why these options may be good opportunities to also grow your garden community.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension and the staff in the Community Food Systems Workgroup who support Farm to School activities including school gardens.  For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, see http://www.msue.msu.edu/newsletters. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).


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