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.

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