Life Lab

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

Plant It, Grow It, Eat It! Workshop Teaches Garden-Based Nutrition

View this article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel By Devika Garg-Bansal

pigiewkshSANTA CRUZ >> Kids and vegetables are not exactly best friends. Parents know this all too well, as do restaurants that put out mac and cheese on kids’ menus.

But the trend is now turning with more schools using food gardens to instill good nutritional habits in children.

Life Lab’s “Plant It, Grow It, Eat It!” Workshop held Friday at the UC Santa Cruz Farm taught garden-enhanced nutrition education for elementary and middle schools. Participants included 25 garden educators and parent volunteers from schools and nonprofits across the country, including one educator from Brazil.

“It is wonderful being here and connecting with all of the teachers,” said Flavia Schwartzman, dietician and consultant for the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization in Brazil. “Having the opportunity to be in this outdoor lab is beautiful.”

One of the activities included a hunt around the garden to spot fruits and vegetables in colors of the rainbow to identify healthy elements found in plants, or phytonutrients.

“Different colors have different phytonutrients in them, which support different health elements in human nutrition,” said John Fisher, director of Programs and Partnerships at Life Lab, who has been teaching these techniques for 30 years.

“For example, red helps the heart and blood, and orange helps your eyes. By eating a diversity of color, we’re supporting more human health.” Another activity included setting up a healthy food plate with fruits, vegetables, healthy fat, grains and proteins. The workshop trained participants to teach these concepts effectively in a garden classroom through gardening, harvesting and meal preparation.

Life Lab has trained about 4,000 people across California in garden-based teaching methods using funding from the state. It also conducted a statewide Train the Trainers workshop with more than 1,700 participants.

The Collective School Garden Network lists more than 800 edible school gardens across California that received a garden grant from the Western Growers Foundation. With help from Life Lab, most schools in the Santa Cruz County have active gardens, Fisher said.

“Putting in a garden is the easy part,” said Fisher. “Getting teachers to use it is sometimes more of the challenge, and that’s where Life Lab comes in.”

Fisher said that first lady Michelle Obama’s recent Let’s Move campaign has galvanized greater interest in the initiative. According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention data, one in three kids in the U.S. is at risk of being obese, and rates have more than doubled since 1980s.

“Unfortunately, we are following the American way of life [in Brazil],” said Schwartzman. “We have over 60 percent people who are overweight or obese, so this is a global thing.”

Food and nutrition education in elementary and middle schools seems to be working. Fisher mentioned that early research shows that kids that grow, and tend and harvest their own vegetables are more willing to try them.

“We were growing broccoli a couple of seasons ago, and I had to tell this boy that he took too much broccoli,” said Jessica Ferrell, a workshop participant and garden coordinator at Nixon Elementary School in Stanford. “Later in the day I was like, ‘I just got after a kid because he ate too much broccoli!’ It was just so bizarre! It’s that effective.”

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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