MADISON, Wis. -

At the Troy Kids Garden the tomatoes are growing and so is the knowledge of school teachers in Wisconsin.

The 14 teachers are part of the Growing Farm to School project. They are learning how to develop a school garden where students can learn about growing food, nutrition and about life.

“This is our fifth year and we’ve had almost 150 educators from area schools,” said Nathan Larson, education director for Community GroundWorks. The organization runs the week-long program for teachers.

Community GroundWorks received a $400,000 Community-Academic Partnership grant to operate the program from the Wisconsin Partnership Program, an endowment at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

The goal of the Growing Farm to School project is to increase the number of school gardens by giving teachers and child care providers the technical resources, training, curriculum and ongoing support. The project is provided to teachers free of charge.

Once the teachers develop the school gardens it will give students a chance for hands-on learning.

“It is very experiential. They are in the soil, they are planting things, they are tending the food and they are harvesting,” Larson said.

Jennie Mattern-Bicksler, an elementary school teacher in Madison, has used a school garden for three years and has seen the results.

“They are so excited, and part of what we’re learning here is to just initially give them time to explore,” Mattern-Bicksler said.

The week-long program also gives the teachers information about the nutritional value and benefit of garden grown fruits and vegetables for students.

Three UW-Madison faculty members serve as academic partners to the program.

Sam Dennis, Ph.D., provides advice on landscape architecture while Dr. Aaron Carrel, a pediatrician, and Dale Schoeller, Ph.D., give insight on the nutritional advantages of a school garden for students.

Previous studies have shown that garden-based nutrition intervention programs can increase student awareness and appreciation for fruits and vegetables, which can improve healthy choices by children.

Organizers hope that what teachers are learning in the Troy Kids Garden will grow throughout the state.

“That is a satisfying part of the program in that ripple effect,” Larson said. “By the end of this week everyone leaves feeling more inspired and more equipped to go out and really run these great programs all over the place.”