Simply put, Jennifer Tedeschi digs gardening.
At her home in Vermont, Tedeschi tends to gardens that are bursting with edibles like tomatoes; a variety of hostas; and an array of perennials, such as phlox, coneflowers and mums.
Gardening, she says, is “a wonderful world of experimentation, trial and error, and accomplishment, and it’s a therapeutic stress reliever.”
For Tedeschi, gardening goes beyond stress relief, though. This summer, she became executive director of the National Gardening Association, a nonprofit that promotes gardening, particularly among schoolchildren. She had been the group’s chief operating officer.
“Our mission is to empower every generation to lead healthier lives, build stronger communities and encourage environmental stewardship through educational gardening programs. We do this in a myriad of ways, from resources for gardeners of all levels to our overarching initiative to establish a garden in every school,” Tedeschi says.
Thanks to nearly $4 million in grants from the association’s A Garden in Every School project, about 10,000 U.S. schools have set up gardens, she says. Today, an estimated 42,000 schools offer garden-oriented education programs, but that’s well short of the more than 128,000 schools operating across the country.
School gardening plants the seeds for bushels of benefits, according to Tedeschi.
“All academic disciplines can be taught in the garden, we know that kids who grow and taste vegetables grown in the garden tend to eat more of them, setting them up for healthier habits throughout their lives. We see behavioral benefits along with increased respect for nature and the environment,” she says. “Learning opportunities that take place in the garden truly encompass educating the whole child.”
As for gardening in general, Tedeschi is working on a campaign — the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture — aimed at involving 90 percent of U.S. households in gardening of any type by 2025, up from 70 percent in 2014. Tedeschi sits on a U.S. Department of Agriculture steering committee that’s striving to achieve that goal.
“I think some people who haven’t tried gardening are afraid it’s hard work for little reward,” she says, “but that’s not the case.”