Parents are working with officials in school districts across Northern Virginia to create school gardens that will not only provide an outdoor oasis but also foster student learning about nutrition and the environment.

The Parent Teacher Student Association at Patriot High School in Nokesville raised money this fall to start three tower gardens to grow produce for educational programs. In Arlington, parents are working to expand plots in elementary schools to better integrate the gardens into the school curriculum.

Sarah Grasty, president of the PTSA at Patriot High, conceived of the garden towers to enhance the school’s career-track culinary arts program.

“We’re going to grow the herbs and vegetables they need for the culinary program, and the students can learn the science behind the harvesting of the items and use the produce for cooking and nutrition,” Grasty said.

The school’s PTSA bought the three garden towers this month for $3,800. The towers work on the principle of aeroponic gardening, meaning plants are grown in containers with water and air but no soil. Working with teachers at the school, Grasty has applied for a grant in the hopes of expanding the program.

Last week, the Arlington public schools’ Science Advisory Committee joined the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability in a joint recommendation to the School Board to fund a full-time sustainability and outdoor learning coordinator for Arlington schools next year. That person would integrate into the curriculum lessons in environmental sustainability, outdoor learning and science.

“Maintaining school gardens has fallen to staff and often parents at schools — turnover makes it difficult to sustain efforts over time,” said Jessica Clare Haney, a parent coordinator for outdoor learning programs in Arlington. “It falls to committed individuals and volunteers to share resources across schools to nurture teams of people to maintain gardens and train teachers to use them. The position could really help us ensure we sustain our gardening programs.”

Since June, school garden meet-ups have been held at Arlington schools each month to give interested parents, teachers and staff members a chance to see different gardens and outdoor learning spaces, and to trade ideas and success stories.

At Campbell Elementary School, parent volunteers work with teachers on creating lessons that involve the school’s courtyard gardens, including a Virginia Colonial garden. There are sessions on growing and harvesting food, as well as science and math projects on planning gardens, soil-testing and the effects of weather on plants. Campbell’s outdoor classroom also includes a Wetlands Learning Lab, an ecosystem that connects with neighboring Long Branch Nature Center.

Some gardens, such as the one at Patrick Henry Elementary School, have yielded such prolific crops that the schools have donated produce to the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

Grasty hopes the program at Patriot, in Prince William, will spread from benefiting just the school to benefiting others in the community, as well: “First, our goal was to get it into the schools, to help our learning programs. But the bigger goal is to take this countywide, and, if possible, statewide . . . to feed the homeless and provide food to local shelters in the area.”

Lanyi is a freelance writer.