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2017 Challenge Winner

The Steward School
Richmond, VA


At The Steward School, we champion the fact that students who engage early with growing and eating fresh vegetables are investing in their health and wellness for life.  The Steward School also believes in the value of being a steward for your community and the vegetable garden has become a way for our students to engage and give back to those who are less fortunate.

There is tremendous value in students planting, caring and harvesting vegetables with their own hands. Through this engagement they understand the big picture of the value of food and the necessity to share the bounty.

The Shyla Ipsen Gardens at The Steward School grows vegetables, herbs and staple crops throughout all four seasons. We started in 2013 with bad soil leftover from construction of a new innovation center and now have 36 raised beds on the grounds of our school. Over the course of 4 years we have donated more than 4000lbs of Vegetables to FeedMore, meals on wheels and local homeless shelters. We encourage students, parents, faculty, and staff to sample from our harvest and learn about gardening.





The gardens have quickly grown to be an epicentre of school-wide programming about food innovation. What started as a garden club has evolved into a food innovation club. What began as a summer cooking camp has blossomed into year long cooking clubs with guest chefs that utilize the rich garden fare. Our yearly trip to a local community garden has progressed into week long community engagement projects centered around food access.


At The Steward School, we recognize that the exploration of food innovation provides an opportunity for discussion and hands-on learning for our students. Through their time with us, they begin to understand the opportunities and challenges ahead for growing, producing, and distributing healthy and sustainable food sources. Students are gaining an understanding of not only proper nutrition but an intimate knowledge of how to plant and cultivate a production garden.

We discuss how, as the world’s population grows, demand for resources also grows. First-hand conversations with industry leaders and entrepreneurs expose students to the problem-solving process and help them develop their understanding of the future of food innovation.

As part of our approach to food innovation we engage in a variety of sustainable practices that center around the garden and its programing:

  • Plants are cultivated using sustainable methods - letting them bloom to support pollinators and letting them go to seed for local birds and re-seed cultivation. 
  Rainwater is caught in cisterns and then used to water the gardens, reducing our impact. 

  • Heavy organic material from the gardens and food waste from the lunchroom is 
composted through a community partner, NOPE, that returns soil to the gardens. 

  • The lunchrooms use vegetables and herbs from the gardens to provide healthy meal 
options to students. 

  • Upper School students are building a mobile kitchen cart to help local nonprofits teach about cooking with vegetables and healthy foods. 

  • Middle School students used fresh produce from the gardens to design and plate a salad and main course in partnership with a local restaurant. All proceeds went to the Make-A-Wish foundation. 

  • All grades helped grow, harvest, and prepare vegetables for soup making with our lunchroom staff that was donated to homeless shelters. 

  • Lower School students frequently tour the gardens as part of their outdoor classroom experience and are encouraged to taste and try new things. 




We intentionally do not sell any of our produce to remove barriers of access for our families. We actively invite students, parents, community and families to come and harvest and prepare meals together. The garden is a collective community project that cultivates a culture of sharing and connectivity and increases inclusion and frequency of visits from families. We have been working with local restaurants and food entrepreneurs on sharing and trade for fresh herbs, produce and flowers in exchange for their expertise and engagement with the students and the community. Later this fall students will offer a produce market to help raise funds to donate to a non-profit that is helping refugees with micro-business skills.


 We have had tremendous support for our garden but most of our efforts have been cobbled together from volunteer work, donations and the dedication of a growing number of staff, faculty, parents and people from the community. The program is sustainable but with additional support and recognition we will be able to add features that will create more engagement and enthusiasm from our students and community. We are on the verge of becoming one of the most successful community school gardens in our area. We are building a sustainable model that we can share and mentor other schools locally and nationally. However, we are at a point where we need help so we can continue to grow and cultivate a culture of sharing around our gardens and programing.

As we continue to expand our garden program, we find ourselves seeking ways to increase productivity and waste management.

With increased funds we could afford to:

  •  Create a learning pavilion in the center of the gardens to host events and family harvesting sessions. 
  • Hire an intern to help assist in maintenance of the gardens and also teach after school workshops. 
  • Create a more efficient watering system with drip irrigation and water sensors.  Increase access for community families. 
  • Increase our food waste recycling program.