Children from University Settlement Tell Their ‘Garden Stories’


Beginning last summer, NYC Foodscape teamed up with Garden Stories Leadership Workshops to help develop some of the gardening programming and learning approaches. Garden Stories creates interactive workshops for children in underserved neighborhoods that use storytelling to support the development of their life stories, and empower children to develop their self-confidence and improve communication skills.

Garden Stories draws inspiration from community gardens. They provide examples of how neighborhood leaders improved the quality of life in their communities by transforming abandoned lots into vibrant gardens.

Storytelling helps support the kid’s individual and group communications. Using journal and group activities, the kids learn how to share ideas with others, collaborate and listen and view themselves as part of a community and even future leaders. The gardening reminds them that gardens are more than plants. Using this multimedia approach, the kids not only get hands on experience in the garden, and learn about the food, cultural and environmental aspects of gardening, but also about giving back to the community by sharing what they’ve learned through their storytelling and about becoming accountable to a larger community for the long-term wellbeing of everyone. Here’s a bit about the approach to the program:


Storytelling: Supports individual and group communications. Uses journal and group activities to support integration of learning across the program.

  • Individual focus: Keeping a journal, sharing ideas with others
  • Group: Learning how to collaborate, listening to each other
  • Community : See the bigger picture – gardens are more than plants –exploring new ideas using multi-media
  • Sharing: Giving back to the community by sharing what they have learned through their stories

IMG_3858Gardening: Provides opportunities to work in a garden, take accountability for maintaining a garden, and gain first hand knowledge about gardens and the environment from working directly with community leaders.

  • Hands on experience in starting a garden
  • Learning about the background of community gardens – culture/history
  • Practical use of gardens – growing food you can eat
  • Understanding the environmental impact of green spaces in New York

Expanded Programming

Children’s Garden at Campos hosted a couple of early pilot programs in the fall, one with teens from the University Settlement’s Cornerstone Community Center at Campos Plaza. This year, we expanded that programming to an six week workshop that included twice-a-week sessions alternating gardening and storytelling. Each session reinforced and built on the lessons and activities of the other, either applying the garden activities to create stories and communicate truths about the world and themselves or relating the abstract lessons in the storytelling sessions to the garden activities. The kids alternated gardening activities at the well-established Children’s Garden at Campos and in creating their own garden at the Cornerstone Community Center.

Here are a few examples of some of the session topics and activities the kids from Cornerstone performed throughout the program.

Storytelling: Unmasking – What do You Like?                                            

  • Building trust among children – finding commonalities and appreciating differences
  • Becoming more confident in sharing what you like
  • Learning the art of asking questions


Gardening: What are Community Gardens

  • How do community gardeners work with each other – focus on team work and collaboration
  • Hands on planting – compare plantings between Campos and Cornerstone seedlings


We also toured another community garden in the Lower East Side, La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez, located at the southwest corner of 9th Street & Avenue C. According to its website, “La Plaza Cultural is a unique open-air theater and green space, combining the functions of a community garden, a park and play area, wildlife refuge and performance venue. Thousands of people from diverse cultures use our space every year. We are a vital arena for theater, dance, music, art and social gatherings.” The kids saw diverse garden beds, a fish pond, local art and even the garden’s chickens! They also interacted with and interviewed artists, gardeners, parents and children, getting their own “stories of the garden.”

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Gardening:  Pros and Woes – what do gardens need to thrive?

  • Learning about ideal planting conditions
  • Why do some plants not take hold?
  • What are healthy starts?
  • Exploring garden for healthy starts or finding plants that are struggling



Storytelling: What Happens when things don’t go right?

  • Focus on personal resilience
  • How can you help each other? Empathy, problem solving
  • Using role play scenarios


Storytelling: Building on each other’s ideas – creating an imaginary plant

  • Focus on listening as skill to build on each other’s ideas
  • Develop collaboration skills
  • Describe plant on flip chart
  • Create made-up plant using their bodies


Gardening:  Garden maintenance and tending to life

  • Tending to garden – weeding, etc.
  • Practical application of garden to grow vegetables
  • What is a successful crop?


Storytelling: Focus on family – sharing stories of favorite holidays, family gatherings, etc. 

  • Appreciating family backgrounds
  • Respecting differences and finding ways to incorporate differences into your story


We capped off the program with a “Garden Stories Festival” in Cornerstone’s garden. The kids shared stories with invited guests, replanted a few vegetables, made banners, and saw a video of one of their group stories, Here’s a link to the video about “Mary’s Garden,” edited by Zack Perl.

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Cornerstone Garden in Full

The program is over for now, but here’s the garden the kids created, now in full, with squash, corn, sunflowers, greens, flowers and tomatoes.

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