Susy Lopez points out some green beans growing in one of the Garden Project plots at Hope Rural School. Because of the garden’s strong community involvement, the school is eligible to compete for a Golden Shovel Award. Deadline for entry is May 1.

Does your school have a garden? Then enter the Florida Department of Agriculture’s school garden contest.

The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness will award the Golden Shovel to five exemplary school garden projects. Now in its third year, the Florida Farm to School Golden Shovel Awards recognize gardens developed or sustained throughout the school year.

How to win the school garden contest

The five award categories and criteria are:
Best New Garden: Must have constructed, maintained and harvested produce from their garden for their first season during the 2016-17 school year.
Best Revitalized Garden: Must have revitalized either a dormant garden or a garden that needed significant improvement.
Best Use of Produce: Must show use of the produce from their school garden, either on- or off-campus.
Most Community Involvement: Must display community involvement as an integral component of their garden program.

In Hope Rural School’s garden, the name of the familia (Spanish for “family”) caring for each plot is posted on a sign.

Most Creative Learning Environment: Must exhibit creative components that complement the garden as both an agricultural laboratory and an outdoor classroom.

Judging criteria vary for each category, but all entries are judged on school involvement, curriculum integration and the sustainability plan for the garden. Other criteria include creativity, crop diversity, appearance, learning space and unique garden features.

Enter only one school garden contest category

Contestants should fill out an application for the single category they would like to be judged on. Review the applications for more information, then choose the category that best fits your school’s garden program. (Multiple entries will not be accepted.) Include a picture of the garden layout and design.

“School gardens bring the classroom outside and allow students to gain a hands-on understanding of where their food comes from,” Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam said in a statement. “Studies show that children involved in planting, growing and harvesting their own food choose healthier food and show improved academic performance.”

The Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness encourages schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program and have a school garden to enter for a chance to win a Golden Shovel.

Applications are now being taken and will remain open until May 1. For more information, contact Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness Garden Specialist Kristi Hatakka at 850-617-7128 or [email protected].

For more information and entry forms, visit Fresh from Florida’s Golden Shovel Awards.