Life Lab

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

Pajaro Valley Initiative

Advancing and Sustaining Garden-based Learning in the Pajaro Valley

In 2014 we began reaching out to partners old and new in the Watonsville schools and community to share a three-part vision for Life Lab service to the region:

1)  Offer training, coaching, garden design, instruction support, college interns, and Common Core connected curriculum to teachers at Amesti and Starlight Elementary and other high-need local schools, to expand and enrich garden-based learning opportunities in school gardens, particularly during in-school time. Learn more about Watsonville School Garden Project.

2)  Develop a new Blooming Classroom educational garden at a Watonsville farm to provide field trip programs in science exploration, garden-enhanced nutrition education, and connection with nature. View Blooming Classroom Photos

3)  Faciitate a dialogue among school and community leaders to develop a long-term model of sustained funding to continue this work, drawing on Life Lab's national network of partners with successful regional support models to craft a plan specifically for the Pajaro Valley.

The third element is key: we intend to build robust programs and professional learning communities that will last, continuing to provide greater learning opportunities for Pajaro Valley children for decades to come. To do so, we will partner with grantmakers and donors initially while working to institutionalize long-term funding by 2018. The students at these elementary schools are 90% eligible for federal free and reduced cost lunch programs, 95% Latina/o, and 75% English language learners. Research from our own and others' programs show tremendous academic and health benefits from garden-based education programs for these young populations, opening lifelong opportunities they may otherwise lack. This work is vital to Life Lab and inspires our long-term commitment.

 

Life Lab has partnered with people, schools, organizations and agencies on garden-based learning projects in Watsonville and the broader Pajaro Valley of southern Santa Cruz County a number of times since our founding in 1979. We've worked directly with children, trained and mentored teachers, helped design and build educational gardens, and connected people with similar interests and visions. Young lives were changed for the better through greater educational opportunity, health and wellness, and connection with nature. Yet, as happens in many communities, projects ended with their funding and long-term momentum waxed and waned.

In 2013 we were reexamining this history and how best to share Life Lab's special resources with more Pajaro Valley children now and in the future when a transformative dialogue began. We co-launched California FoodCorps and placed a service member at H.A. Hyde Elementary School in collaboration with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), a longtime partner in farm-to-school work, to support and expand existing garden activities there. Then a retired flower farmer inspired by Life Lab's mission and programs offered us her Watsonville farm as a place for educational opportunities for local children. Having a beautiful site just five to ten minutes from the public elementary schools we want to serve provided a special opportunity for a longer term vision. The conversation continued and a pledge of four-year seed funding for new programs breathed life into this opportunity. 

 

Pajaro Valley School Garden Project

Instructional school gardens have been shown to enhance test scores and social skills and have been linked to improved attitudes and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables by students. In the 1990's, through our Language Acquisition in Science Education For Rural Schools Program, Life Lab was a major influence in the initial development of school gardens throughout the Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD). 

Currently in the PVUSD there are more struggling school garden programs than thriving ones. We plan to reverse this by supporting school garden program development at all interested elementary school sites. Starting with a select number of elementary schools, and collaborating with existing farm to school and school garden allies, this work will be accomplished through a multi-year process of layering in additional training, staffing and curricular resources.

For questions related to the PVUSD School Garden Project, contact John Fisher at gardendirector@lifelab.org

School Garden Project Phases:

Phase one:

  • Identify and partner with committed schools.
  • Place FoodCorps Americorps service members to serve as school garden instructors and coordinators alongside teachers.
  • Teachers and their classes will share two garden lessons per month at their site.
  • Life Lab staff and FoodCorps service members will coordinate college student teams of school garden interns to assist in garden maintenance, school garden events, and instruction.
  • Track student impacts related to school garden instruction, using FoodCorps's extensive reporting and assessment methods and additional outside evaluators.

Phase two:

  • Life Lab will provide professional development opportunities for classroom teachers focusing on the garden lesson cycle. Continuing education credit will be provided for teachers.
  • Life Lab will provide lesson plan modeling and coaching to classroom teachers, FoodCorps service members, and UCSC interns.
  • Teachers and their classes will share two garden lessons per month at their site.
  • College interns will continue to assist with garden maintenace and school garden promotional activities.
  • Ongoing assessment of student impacts related to increased school garden programming.

Phase three:

  • Classroom teachers will be invited to attend additional professional development and networking events.
  • College interns will continue to assist with garden maintenace and school garden promotional activities.
  • Ongoing assessment of student impacts related to increased school garden programming.

 

 

The Blooming Classroom

Read the Blooming Classroom cover story from the July 2015 Child Health and Disability Prevention Program Newsletter.

Since 2001 Life Lab's Garden Classroom, located on the UC Santa Cruz Farm, has served tens of thousands of local students through field trip with farm-to-plate programs, nutrition education, and grade-level science exploration.

PVUSD have been underrepresented in Garden Classroom field trips due to distance, cost of transportation and competitive demand for field trip dates. We are developing the Blooming Classroom at our farm in western Watsonville as a venue for repeat-visit field trip opportunities for selected, high-need PVUSD elementary schools. 

For questions related to the Blooming Classroom contact Cara Sundell at cara@lifelab.org

Blooming Classroom Goals:

  • PVUSD Elementary School Students will engage in three annual field trips focusing on science exploration, nutrition education, and connecting with nature.
  • Field Trip explorations will reinforce school garden program lessons and learning.
  • 15 college students will serve PVUSD students through garden-based education internships each year, providing small group lessons and interactions during field trips.


Pajaro Valley School Garden Support Model

The community process to develop a model for sustained long-term funding and staffing of these programs is a core element of the Pajaro Valley Initiative. We have begun conversations with PVUSD district staff, teachers and administrators; local and regional farm-to-school program providers; city council members and other community leaders about this goal. Partners have jumped in enthusiastically, coordinating fresh surveying and mapping of existing school gardens, programs and needs and participating in gatherings to discuss the state of garden-based education in the community. We are excited to welcome more minds and voices to the table, as we look ahead to building the long-term support model.

We are uniquely positioned to bring successful models and knowledge from other communities across the U.S. to this Pajaro Valley dialogue: Life Lab is a leader and facilitator of the National School Garden Network, which we co-founded in 2012 to focus specifically on sharing regional support models. For example, school garden programs are sustained in the City of Santa Cruz through property tax assessments; in Washington, D.C. they are part of a wellness program underwritten by a soda tax; in Dallas and San Francisco they benefit from long-term private funding. When the Watsonville community develops a successful model, refining elements of these other models to fit the specific circumstances here, Life Lab will also be a conduit to share this new model with others nationally, to replicate in similar communities around the U.S.

For questions related to the Pajaro Valley School Garden Support Model and to join in this vital community dialogue, contact John Fisher at gardendirector@lifelab.org

 

Photos

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Blooming Classroom

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Thanks to the Whole Kids Foundation for the generous grant and to Big Creek Lumber for your donation to the Amesti Eagles' Garden. With the generous support of Life Lab and other community supporters, our students are receiving the gift of hands-on Next Generation Science Standards and learning about healthy eating in a beautiful outdoor classroom!

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Do you ever wonder what is living just below the surface of the San Lorenzo River? Join the Coastal Watershed Council and Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History for tomorrow's Exploring the San Lorenzo River tour and find out!

We will be meeting at 8:30 on the Santa Cruz Riverwalk next to Mike Fox park and will be seining for fish and collecting benthic macroinvertebrates aka bugs! We will learn about the organisms that live in the San Lorenzo River and their food webs. This tour is open to all ages. You can sign up online or by emailing CWC River Scientist Alev Bilginsoy at abilginsoy@coastal-watershed.org. Learn more at coastal-watershed.org/what-we-do/exploring-san-lorenzo-river-series/.
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At a @soilbornfarms school garden conference, in a workshop on trees reminded me of this incredible Radiolab Podcast podcast. Listen to this one. ... See MoreSee Less

Forests feel like a place of great stillness but dig deeper and there’s a hidden world beneath your feet as busy and complicated as a city. 

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LIFE LAB on MAUI! so AnB stopped sugar production on Maui this year, there is tons of land available to lease and they are now taking offers. If farmers or farm educators won't get to it, it will turn into development, there are not enough offers from farmers and we need more, so please pass this on to those that are interested. To speak to An B need to look them up and make an offer. They are taking offers now! ... See MoreSee Less

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Rachel PringleSenior Director of ProgramsEducation Outside

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.

Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps

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.

Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary

Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.

Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom

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.