Students in Arkansas work in their new school garden.

Students in Arkansas work in their new school garden.

School Gardens Research

A major project in The Wells Lab focused on studying the influence of school gardens on children’s health and well-being.  This work was funded primarily by the USDA’s People’s Garden Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth project and by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), through its Active Living Research Program. The 2-year, 4-state research and Cooperative Extension partnership employs a true experiment (i.e., a “randomized controlled trial”) to assess how school gardens affect nutritional knowledge, fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, and related outcomes among elementary school children.  Forty-eight schools in Iowa, Arkansas, New York, and Washington were randomly assigned to receive the garden intervention or to be in the wait-list control group that received gardens at the end of the study.  Thirty Cooperative Extension educators were “on the ground” at the schools, implementing the garden intervention, delivering garden-based lessons, and collecting objective data and survey data to assess gardens’ effects on children’s health and health behaviors.

The RWJF-funded study School Gardens and Physical Activity was conducted just in New York State, piggybacking on the larger-USDA People’s Garden Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth project.  To examine the effects of school gardens on children’s physical activity, three measures were used:  the GEMS Activity Questionnaire (GAQ); accelerometers; and direct observation of children in the garden and in the classroom.  Findings of our School Gardens and Physical Activity study, published in Preventive Medicine (December 2014), indicate:

  • Children at schools with gardens report a reduction in usual sedentary behaviors.   This suggests that gardening may contribute to a reduction in “screen time” and other sedentary behaviors.
  • School gardens lead to increased moderate physical activity during the school day.  Although typically children spent a very modest amount of time in the garden each week, there was an effect on PA.
  • Children move more and sit less during outdoor garden lesson versus indoor, classroom lesson.  Suggesting more integration of gardens with curriculum can yield even stronger effects.

Please feel free to download our research briefs #1 and #2 (see this page upper right) describing our findings about gardens and physical activity; research brief #3 describing the PARAGON direct observation measure; and research brief #4 regarding the effects of school gardens on science knowledge. We look forward to sharing findings regarding other effects of school gardens in the coming months.


The Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth USDA-funded project is a partnership between Washington State University, Cornell University, Iowa State University, the University of Arkansas, and the Cooperative Extensions of the four institutions.


This project has been funded, in part, with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) People’s Garden pilot program (Project #CN-CGP-11-0047) and by the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (Hatch funds) (#NYC-327-465) and Cornell Cooperative Extension (Smith Lever funds) through the National Institutes for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) USDA.  Additional funding was provided for various aspects of this project by: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its Active Living Research Program (#69550); The Wellmark Foundation to the Iowa 4-H Foundation, Ames IA (# 2011-02-66); Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF);  The Cornell University Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Small Grants Program; The Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, Cornell University; The College of Human Ecology, Cornell University; and the Cornell Cooperative Extension Summer Intern Program (2011, 2012, 2013).

Research Briefs

Research Brief #1: Gardens and Physical Activity

Research Brief #2: Indoor vs. Outdoor Physical Activity

Research Brief #3 PARAGON: An observational measure of PA while gardening

Download PARAGON here

Research Brief #4: School Gardens and Science Knowledge



The contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.