Life Lab

Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

Book Review: Our School Garden! by Rick Swann

Books reflect our lives and the times that we are living, as the details that form the content weave cultural elements of any given place and time into the words. For this reason, seeing a children’s book about school gardens is a heartening symbol of our current society. It signifies the exciting fact that parents and kids are recognizing the school garden as a common entity.

The new book, “Our School Garden!” by Rick Swann, works to spread that shared experience through his unique layout that mixes verse, lessons and history. We enter the story through the character of Michael, who is starting his first day at a new school in a new city. From his perspective, we get introduced to their thriving school garden, his new friends, and the learning that goes on throughout the year. Each page presents a topical verse, from “The Enormous Carrot” to “Pill Bugs” to “Harvest Day!” which is linked to a short informative lesson on the next page. My favorite is “Three Sisters” where Michael describes planting corn, squash and beans with Julie and Simon. On the next page, we learn about “companion planting” and the reasons that the Native Americans chose these three crops to grow together. Another great section is “Homonym: One Word, Many Meanings” in which we hear about all the ways the word “bank” is used within the context of Michael’s garden, ie: food bank, snow bank, seed bank, etc. Through the concept of a homonym, the important idea of donating to food banks is introduced.

The beautiful illustrative work of Christy Hale lends a perfect visual component to this book, capturing the vibrant colors and dreamy scenes that make up a year in a garden. She brings the reader into each page by offering lots of textures, backgrounds and small details to focus on while also maintaining emphasis on Michael as a character and the garden through his eyes.

Swann is an elementary school librarian in Seattle, and something that started inspiring him to delve into the subject of gardening was his research that uncovered the long history that gardens in schools has had. We get some of this knowledge in Michael’s “Found Poem” verse, along with a lesson about victory gardens during World War I and II and even today at the White House. The Author’s Note at the very end gives us even more insight about the history of Swann’s specific school, and really emphasizes why our country felt compelled to create these special spaces for learning and why it is important to keep that trend alive and well.

For parents and teachers, the author has also included a list of resources and recommendations for other good books about the subject. His website,, dives even more into the topic, offering more historical references and images of historic community garden posters, as well as a curriculum guide that has activities to pair with all the poems in the book. He also offers a few fun examples of his own stopmotion animation, up to date blog posts, and a variety of presentations that he is happy to bring to your school.

– Amber Turpin, Life Lab Staff and Civil Eats Writer

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Teaching a Growing Classroom Workshop at @OakSpringGardenFoundation in collaboration with I feel like I’ve fallen into a small French village. This is the former estate of Paul and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon in Virginia. Mrs. Mellon was an avid horticulturalist who designed the White House Rose Garden! I am staying in the room where Jackie Kennedy stayed when she visited here!! Sharing a weekend in this space with teachers who love kids and gardens is a truly unforgettable experience. ... See MoreSee Less

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Just when I thought we’d seen it all ... this is an agrophotovoltaic school garden underneath massive solar panels at @Manzo.Ecology in Tucson. The elementary school students here gather and analyze data on how the shade from the panels helps the plants grow and how the plants help cool the panels and increase their efficiency. What?!?! It’s amazing and gives me hope. Oh, and also they have a desert tortoise in their courtyard. ... See MoreSee Less

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Have you heard?! Life Lab is one of New Leaf Community Markets' recipients of their EnviroToken program at their Westside Santa Cruz store! So get your shopping on, bring your reusable bags, and donate 10¢ to Life Lab with every bag you use! Thank you, New Leaf!
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What happens when Whole Kids Foundation partners with you to bring 50+ leaders from School Garden Support Organizations from across the country together to get to talk shop, inspire each other, problem-solve around shared challenges, and eat amazing food prepared and served by happy 5th graders? MAGIC. That's what happens. #sgso2018 ... See MoreSee Less

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Have you heard?! Life Lab is one of New Leaf Community Markets' recipients of their EnviroToken program for their Westside Santa Cruz store! So get your shopping on, bring your reusable bags, and donate 10¢ to Life Lab with every bag you use! Thank you, New Leaf!
#thankyou, #grateful, #ReduceReuseRecycle, #isupportlifelab
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We are so grateful to be starting 2018 with such strong support! Because of so many generous gifts from our supporters like you, we surpassed our 2017 fundraising goal of $124,000, with all campaign donations totaling $125,835.

These funds will help make Life Lab field trip and summer camp programs possible for children from families and schools that could otherwise not afford them. We believe that ALL children deserve the chance to love learning, healthy food, and nature. Thanks to your support, this year we will serve even more children in Santa Cruz County and across the nation.


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Happy almost 2018, Life Lab fans! We are only $809 dollars away from reaching our $124,000 year-end fundraising goal! Before you ring in the new year, will you help us ensure a promising 2018? 100% of the funds necessary to do this important work come from grants and from individuals like you. Will you join us in ensuring that we can continue to deepen and expand our reach, so that even more children can experience the joy of loving learning, healthy food, and nature? Your tax-deductible gift made by midnight tonight will go directly to supporting our programs.
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Life Lab has been the most innovative and relevant organization in this field. From providing the best curriculum to their cutting edge professional development, we have relied on Life Lab as our go to organization for support, ideas, and collaboration.
Rachel PringleSenior Director of ProgramsEducation Outside
Life Lab provides truly inspiring training. Their breadth of experience, joy for teaching, and commitment to sharing knowledge highlight the best practices in food and garden education.
Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps
Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.
Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary
Terry had another awesome two weeks at Life Lab. I think he learns more there than in any other part of his year. School is great, but he’s passionate (and often dogmatic) about what he learns there.
Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom