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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In 2016, you helped us bring 30 leaders from across the nation together for a first-ever Leadership Institute for School Garden Support Organizations.

The results are in on the work they have achieved together. In 2017, these 30 leaders collectively trained 463 teachers who teach over 10,000 students every year. And after their trainings, 98% of those 463 teachers reported an increase in their motivation and confidence to engage students in hands-on, experiential learning in a garden setting.

Do you know what that means?! That means more and more kids getting meaningful experiences like the students above! That’s why, in January of 2018 we’ll be hosting another Leadership Institute, this time for 50 leaders who will be coming in from all across the US, including leaders from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Because every child everywhere deserves the chance to discover a love of learning, healthy food, and nature. We can’t wait to see what these leaders accomplish in the year to come!

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Today is the 174th birthday of Gertrude Jekyll, a British horticulturist, garden designer, artist, and writer. She created over 400 gardens in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States.

"A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust." -Gertrude Jekyll
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A heartfelt thank you to our generous community for all of your support on #GivingTuesday yesterday! We celebrate all of YOU this #ThankYouWednesday--with your partnership, we are growing healthy, inspired children!
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Over the past four years, the amount of mobile screen time has tripled in kids under eight. Our programs get kids outdoors in gardens and farms where they are physically active and learn to love nature!

"We will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." - Baba Dioum

Will you join us today for #GivingTuesday in providing opportunities for children to love nature?

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The next generation of problem solvers will come from tomorrow's scientists. We partner with five schools in Watsonville to spark the curiosity of over 3,000 students in our school garden and field trip programs. Another 2,500 students engage in hands-on, garden-based learning at our Garden Classroom in Santa Cruz, too.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." - Albert Einstein

You can influence real change today by supporting Life Lab for #GivingTuesday.

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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