Food Safety & Environmental Services

School Garden Program

The goal of the School Garden Program is to enable fresh produce to be safely served in school cafeterias from their on-site school garden. The Arizona Department of Health Services School Garden Program will help your school garden meet the requirements of approved source as required in the Arizona Food Code.

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Click on a question below to see the answer.

General

Do I need to attend the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (U A CALS) Cooperative Extension training?

No, you do not need to attend the training; however, the training will help you to prepare your Food Safety Plan that is required with the application to request a site visit. Note: The funding for this training has expired; however, a video will be made in the future. The Arizona Department of Health Services offers a free workshop to help your school become certified. Please contact us to schedule.

How much does the U A CALS Cooperative Extension training cost?

The training is free to attend.* *The Arizona Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Consultation and Training Program has funded all or a portion of this project using Specialty Crop Block Grant funds provided by the USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service. Note: The funding for this training has expired; however, a video will be made in the future. The Arizona Department of Health Services offers a free workshop to help your school become certified. Please contact us to schedule.

How much does it cost to approve my school garden?

The School Garden Program is free.

Do I need a Garden Manager/Person In Charge?

A Garden Manager/Person In Charge is highly recommended. They will be the contact person not only for the ADHS School Garden Program, but also for your volunteers, students, teachers and school administrative staff.

Food Handling

Should the garden workers wash the vegetables before taking to the cafeteria?

No, the vegetables should be brushed off lightly to remove dirt. If you get the produce wet, it will spoil faster.

How do I transport the produce to the school cafeteria?

You should transport the produce in clean and sanitized, food-grade quality containers. Ensuring the containers are clean and sanitized will prevent contamination from bacteria and viruses onto the produce.

What type of containers can I use to transport the produce to the school cafeteria?

Garden dedicated. Plastic, food-grade quality containers and/or new, unused plastic or paper grocery bags can be used for harvest and transport.

How do I receive the produce in the kitchen?

As with any food source, the product should be checked for the following:

  • Produce shows signs of spoilage
  • Surface of the produce is broken
  • Surface of the produce has animal feces on it
  • Produce is wilted or brown

I have a centralized kitchen, how can I track the produce from each school?

The best way to track the produce from each school would be to have the school Garden Manager label the approved containers with the school name and harvest date. Ideally, the produce should be returned to the school where the produce was grown.

What does it mean by "clean and sanitized"?

Equipment is washed with hot soapy potable water, rinsed with clean potable water, and then sanitized with a chlorine or quaternary ammonia solution. The solution must be tested with a test kit to ensure it is at the proper concentration per the manufacture specifications.

Water

Is the water from my municipality tested?

Yes, the water is tested by your municipality.

I live in a rural community and we use well water, is this approved?

Yes, you can use your well water; however, the water should be tested for microbial contamination once during the growing season and should not be used for irrigation purposes if it exceeds the US EPA Recreational Water Quality Standard. Water used for sanitizing vegetable harvest containers and equipment must meet the minimum drinking water standards and treated with an appropriate sanitizing agent.

Do I need to test my irrigation water?

If your water is from a well and used for irrigation, the water must be tested once during the growing season and should be treated if it doesn’t meet the minimum drinking water standards.

If your irrigation water source is considered surface water (pond, river, stream, canal, reservoir, or ditch), the water must be tested three times during the growing season (first at planting, second at peak use and third at or near harvest) and meets the microbial requirements of the EPA Recreational Water Standard.

Can I use rainwater?

Harvested rainwater can be used but a separate standard operating procedure (SOP) and an attestation is required. A sample SOP and the required attestation can be found below.

Soil Amendments

Do I need to test for lead?

Yes, it is very important to test for lead as the vegetables will absorb the lead and if eaten can be absorbed by children. It is recommended that soil with a lead level that exceeds 300ppm not be used for growing edible crops. Instead, the school can use raised beds with soil amendments.

My soil tested positive for lead, what can I do?

You can use raised container beds that are made of non-toxic, non-leaching materials and using commercially purchased soil that meets the minimum standard for lead content or soil amendments.

What kind of fertilizer can I use?

Any commercially prepared or processed organically derived fertilizer containing animal products such as blood or bone meal, or dried blood products must be from a widely familiar, brand-name source and content/purchase records from the supplier kept on the premises for a minimum of 2 years.

Can I use compost for my edible plants?

School prepared compost made from either plant or manure material requires a separate SOP and attestation. A sample SOP and attestation can be found below based on the material use. All equipment used for composting must be washed and sanitized prior to using on produce.

Location

Can I grow my vegetables in a parking lot?

Yes, if you are using raised container beds that are made of non-toxic, non-leaching and using soil amendments.

What else should I avoid when locating a school garden?

To prevent harmful bacteria and chemicals, the garden should be located uphill from any of the following:

  • Rail road ties
  • Septic system
  • Dumpsters
  • Storage tanks
  • Feed lot
  • Compost pile
  • Parking lots
  • School animals
  • Bird habitats
  • Area subject to any kind of chemical application: herbicide, fungicide, or pesticide
  • A low-lying, poorly drained area
  • Used tires.