You’ll never look at your milk cartons the same again!

Maree Gaetani – Director of Partnerships & Community Relations

Did you know that with the right combination of ingenuity, inspiration and collaboration, an empty milk or juice carton can be transformed into gardening magic?  Can you imagine using empty cartons to create a green entryway, a wall garden or a model of the earth with a sea of green and land of blue?

Teachers and students across the U.S. involved with Evergreen Packaging’s Carton 2 Garden contest, are upcycling and reusing empty cartons to make garden creations that teach math, science, arts, and more! These projects are also about empowerment, teamwork and community building, all while creating a new generation of earth stewards.

I was amazed by the creativity of last year’s winners. Here’s some ideas from 2015 to inspire you to join in on the fun for the 2016 Carton 2 Garden Contest:


College, Career and Technology Academy (CCTA)
Secret Garden Oasis   
Pharr, Texas
# of Cartons: 1,871
CCTA serves students who are off track or who have dropped out and are close to high school graduation.  Their school is located in a former big box store, with no opportunities for landscaping or green space.
This didn’t stop them when put to the challenge of building their garden indoors.  Their secret garden and wall plantings used a multitude of recycled products and created a sense of pride, ownership and uniqueness for the school.  If I saw this in a school entryway, I’d want to learn more about the kids inside.


Lincoln Elementary School
Lincoln’s Buzz Inn
Madison, Wisconsin
# of Cartons:  952

C2G_RegionalWinners_GreatLakes-LincolnBuzzIn-1Buzz Inn? I love this project just for the name! Lincoln Elementary’s 400 students partnered with a local nature center to create a bee house with the cartons. The Buzz Inn inspired a pollinator garden focusing on bees and the phenology of the Monarch butterfly.  The students can now tell you that phenology is the study of how plants and animals have life cycle events that seemingly occur like clockwork every year such as the metamorphosis of a butterfly.  They studied the changes in the plants and pollinators that live in their garden throughout the year, and gained an understanding of how climate cues these life cycles.


Wallenpaupack South Elementary School
Farm to Table
Newfoundland, PA
# of Cartons:  652

C2G_NationalWinners-FarmtoTable-1This school project started simply, using empty milk or juice cartons in the way we usually think of using them, as containers for seed starting. Motivated by the Carton 2 Garden Contest, teacher Liza Conklin helped students in grades K-5 expand the project and exceed initial expectations.

The teachers incorporated the plants into math and science, and the kids were motivated to create posters and lessons about the plants to teach their peers. They visited a food pantry and then decided to grow extra food to donate. They wanted to learn more about gardening so they went global and skyped from the New York Botanical Garden to a farm in Kenya. Their Carton 2 Garden project, designed to represent a model Earth, involved  270 students throughout the school.  

This project demonstrated how school gardening can teach the whole child, one of our tenets here at  These students learned about the natural world, teamwork, healthy food, science, and math.  They tried nutritious foods that some may never have been willing to sample until they grew it themselves.  They were also empowered by being able help their community by growing food for those in need.

2016 Carton 2 Garden Contest

Hopefully you can see that the possibilities are endless and the projects are easily tied to existing curriculum. Entries are due April 13, 2016.  Awards include a $5,000 Grand Prize Winner, 3 $2,500 winners and 10 $1,000 recipients. Learn more about how your school or youth group can enter the 2016 Carton 2 Garden Contest.

Congratulations to the Youth Garden Grant 2016 Winners!

Larry Keyes – Director of IT & Foundation Relations

What does an art teacher, a substance abuse recovery program director, a cooperative extension agent, and an elementary school cafeteria manager have in common? They all applied for and were awarded Youth Garden Grants for 2016.

This year’s Youth Garden Grants from consisted of tools, seeds, soil, and irrigation equipment to assist in starting or enhancing a school or community garden. Our team was impressed by the diversity, number and quality of grant applications, and we were especially gratified by the number of innovative programs and original ideas that were presented.

Here are two winning programs we'd like to highlight:

Julie Midkiff, Art Teacher at Bradley Elementary School in Mount Hope West Virginia, proposed a collaboration with the school, the PTO, local farmers and gardeners to create the Community O'Keeffe Flower and Vegetable Garden project with two objectives:

  • Teach  third, fourth, and fifth graders about the tools and processes of cultivating, raising, and harvesting flowers and vegetables then incorporate these lessons and activities into the school’s curriculum.
  • Provide living examples of flowers and vegetables for students to explore when studying Georgia O’Keeffe in art class.

Another example of an inspirational youth garden program came from Amy Voles, Program Director at the Preferred Family Healthcare Kirksville Adolescent Program in Kirksville, Missouri. Their team intends to create the Growth and Recovery Garden to provide opportunities for personal growth and change for youth experiencing substance use disorders and related issues. Goals that they included in their application included:

  • Instill and model responsibility necessary to nurture growth in the actual garden.
  • Use the process of gardening as an analogy and processing tool related to the effort of personal growth and change.
  • Provide life skills training and education related to nutritional and healing properties of plants and use of these plants through basic culinary training.
  • Provide an outlet for expression and stress management through the incorporation of garden art and a meditation space.

In addition to their innovative approach, these Youth Garden Grant winners also demonstrated a strong leadership team, partnerships with surrounding community organizations, and planning for a sustainable garden project.

Congratulations to all 20 of our YGG 2016 winners! We look forward to sharing more ideas and tips from these exceptional programs with you in future blog posts.