School Gardens

School gardens and Food and Sustainability EducationSchool gardens and Food and Sustainability Education

An evaluation research of the program 'Garden for Bellies' with special focus on the educational opportunities - cooking, taste and food knowledge.

School gardens are spreading across Denmark and there is an overwhelming interest in outdoor and garden-based learning, which demand capacity development of educators and teachers. To support this, the research project aims to:

  1. Study the educational opportunities in school garden pedagogy and garden setting specifically related to cooking skills, taste, food literacy, mental health as well as other educational aspects. 
  2. Integrate research findings into the educations at Metropol and in schools to contribute to innovation, interdisciplinarity, professional development and a research environment.

School gardens and garden-based learning contribute to at least three key societal needs and challenges:

  • A growing number of children and youth lack food literacy, cooking skills, physical activity and a connectedness to nature in our globalized and urbanized society. They lack an understanding of where food is coming from, of seasonality and the global food system (Dyg, 2014; Chenhall 2010; Lang, Caraher 1999, Caraher, Dixon et al. 1999 Barton, Koch et al. 2005; Hess, Texler 2011; Coop, 2014). New ways of teaching and promoting health and environmental consciousness in gardens can address some of these challenges.
  • The need for developing practice and research on outdoor education and school gardens: educating youth in more innovative, practice-oriented and alternative ways is demanded by the new Danish School Reform. This is one way of reaching a broader range of children and youth with different learning styles, needs and backgrounds, including socially disadvantaged children noted in international research to benefit from outdoor education and garden-based learning (Rahm, 2002; Dyg, 2014). 
  • Future innovative and holistic solutions to health, nutritional, environmental and societal challenges demand new knowledge, skills, competencies and commitment as well as interdisciplinary cooperation, which school gardens and related training ideally can provide.

There is a strong movement and political willingness to establish school gardens across the country. The Danish School Reform (2014) focuses on alternative and experiential teaching methods, more teaching hours and daily physical activity all of which open doors for integrating garden activities and other outdoor pedagogy at large scale across the country. With this growing attention in Denmark on garden-based learning and experiential teaching methods, the Gardens for Bellies (Haver til Maver) school garden program was allocated funds from the Nordea-fonden to disseminate school gardens in Denmark from 2014-2016. 

The Garden for Bellies project requires competence development amongst teachers and other stakeholders to use school gardens as a setting for learning and health promotion. It also calls for more research into pedagogical aspects and impacts of garden-based programs on children’s learning, cooking skills and well-being. 

About the project and its results

Full title: School gardens and Food and Sustainability Education – A profession-oriented perspective. The research has looked at the following research areas: 

  1. School garden pedagogy and teaching potential
  2. Organization of school gardens, including stakeholders, outdoor learning spaces, competence development, political agendas and financing.
  3. Impacts related to children's cooking skills, taste and food knowledge and influence on the home environment. 
  4. Impacts on well-being and mental health
  5. Impact of school gardens on children with special needs. 

Our study builds on an evaluation from 2009-2011 "Gardens for Bellies - a study of engagement, school gardens and natural communication" published by the Danish Institute of Pedagogy and Education University of Aarhus, 2011. The new study has the title “Gardens for Bellies – A study of the prevalence and effects of a culinary school garden program” 

The research is based on five explorative case studies involving interviews and focus group discussions with various stakeholders: decision-makers, garden educators, teachers, schoolchildren as well as observation of garden activities in the five school gardens. In addition, a survey was conducted amongst parents, whose children had participated in the school garden program. 

Findings show that new ways of organizing school gardens open up opportunities for involving teachers and new stakeholders with opportunities for intergenerational- and intercultural learning. New school gardens models foster collaboration and involvement of other local stakeholders in rural and urban settings. In both garden models, there are plans to broaden the participants to scouts, elderly and refugees, to create stronger connections between schools, gardens and surrounding communities. The hope is that it will foster community ownership, understanding across generations and cultures, solve practical problems during vacations and prevent vandalism. The effects of school gardens on children include increasing their willingness to learn, well-being, connectedness with their environment and food. 

The completion of the research in April 2016 has ended with a large report for various stakeholders interested in school gardens. The report has the title “Gardens for Bellies – A study of the prevalence and effects of a culinary school garden program” The report is so far only available in Danish.

The research will be followed up with peer-reviewed scientific articles as well as the development and implementation of a diploma module for teachers and pedagogues. For more information, please see module description here:

Organization and collaboration

The research project is done in a close collaboration between Karen Wistoft, Professor, Danish Institute of Pedagogy and Education (DPU), Aarhus University, Metropolitan University College and Gardens for Bellies (Haver til Maver) school gardens. The evaluation research is led by Associate Professor Pernille Malberg Dyg, Global Nutrition and Health, Metropolitan University College.

Research and development unit and Institute

The research on school garden dissemination in Denmark from 2014-2017 is part of the Global Nutrition and Health research profile under the Department of Nutrition and Midwifery, Faculty of  Health and Technology at Metropolitan University College. 


The project runs from August 2014 - July 2017 

​Read more on UC-viden and


Pernille Malberg Dyg

Lektor, ph.d.

Tlf.: +45 24296425


The evaluation is in danish.