Life Lab

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

School Garden Regional Support Models

A regional support model  can be a program, policy or staff person(s) that supports multiple school gardens in a defined region (eg. district, city, or county).

Regional support models can empower garden champions at school sites, build partnerships that support garden programs, and lay the foundation for long-term sustainability. Regional support models can be made up of one or more of the following types of organizations:

  • Community Volunteer Based Models (Master Gardeners, Volunteers, Scouts, Community Gardens)
  • Non-profit Support Organizations
  • University / Service Learning Programs
  • Government Programs (Department of Education, Food and Ag, Municipalities, etc.
  • School Districts
  • Policy that Supports School Gardens
  • Nutrition and Waste Management Funded Programs

Visit the National School Garden Network, a forum of School Garden Support Professionals.

Read more on our blog: Sustaining School Gardens – Funding Garden Coordinators

The following presentation is part of a longer webinar on regional support models for school gardens.

Common Challenges in Creating and Sustaining School Gardens

  • Schools have limited funding.
  • Mounting a garden project is a huge task and requires community engagement.
  • Summer break creates maintenance challenges. Summer break can also create programming/planning challenges.
  • Teachers have their own set of complex variables: no time, many responsibilities, lack of interest, and little knowledge about teaching in the out of doors.
  • There are challenges of planning and implementation of solid curriculum that directly links to academic content.
  • Networking and communications within the school community requires sophisticated outreach and community building skill. Creating a culture of “environmental solidarity” with all aspects of the school day requires planning (lunchroom composting, classroom recycling, roofwater catchment, non toxic cleaners, organic garden, etc)
  • Gardens take a lot of maintenance and a special skill set to keep thriving.


Benefits of a Regional Network

There is power in unity!

  • Networks can get larger pools of funding (ie: parcel tax, bond funding, district wide funding). Individual schools can get parent & local support, but often not much more. 
  • Larger networks have greater political clout when they speak with one voice they can more easily attain:


    • Publicity
    • Recognition
    • District wide program development (institutionalized curriculum or program planning, etc)
  • A network develops relationships, collaborations and colleagues – which in turn strengthen the network
  • A network shares the burden, and “recharges the well “by developing relationships
  • Landscape resources can be bundled and costs can be reduced (or free) when managed by a network (compost, mulch, soil, etc)
  • A network is resilient (more than one person)
  • A network acts like a funnel- gathering and sending information where it is most needed.
  • A network can share best practices by understanding the journey of many.  This can help to make programs more efficient/successful – less “re creating the wheel”

Elements of Regional Networks

What a successful network looks like & how does it operate

  • There is no "one model" of a successful support network/program
  • Networks serve their members and members are responsive/active to/in the network
  • Networks usually have a mission and defined purpose which is know among its members
  • Often these networks are acknowledged by the district which they serve (posted on district web site, proclamation/board resolutions or larger involvement such as funding, staffing, professional development)
  • Ideally these networks become a program of the district or a project of a non-profit.
  • Institutionalizing school gardens and creating a school garden culture often requires the network to support the following tasks/elements:


    • Creating the garden
    • Maintaining the garden
    • Sustaining the garden  (financially)
    • Providing professional development and curriculum to support teachers using the garden
    • An understanding of teacher/school culture and needs
    • Networking meetings, workdays, workshops, and e-communication (NING, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, email lists)

Regional Support Organizations Across the Nation

Urban Sprouts
City Sprouts
Davis Farm to School
DC School Gardens
Boston Schoolyard Intiative
Green Thumb
Real School Gardens
Chicago Botanical Garden
Berkeley Unified School District
Seatle Youth Garden Works
CSGN Regional Chapters
Sonoma School Garden Network
HEAL – Half Moon Bay
Collective Roots
Rhode Island Children and Nature Network
Gardens Project Mendocino
Santa Barbara City College
Mountain View
Puget Sound
Growing Gardens Oregon
The Living Classroom Project
Master Gardeners: San Diego, El Dorado, Orange County, LA – Common Ground
Garden School Foundation
South Carolina Group
Food For Thought
UCCE Alameda County
Project EAT
Santa Clara Unified School District
Petaluma City School District
Growing Great
Macomb County School Garden Initiative
Other School Garden Support Organizations (not defined to one region). This list is far from complete:
CA Women for Agriculture
Learning Through Landscapes (U.K.)
Naturskolani Lund (Sweden)
Chlidren's Landscapes (Norway)
NGA Kids Gardening
Life Lab
Jr. Master Gardeners
Cornell's GBL



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30 educators from across the country shared the power of garden-based learning. Mindfulness in the garden, transplanting with kids, bed prep, and bringing learning to life in the garden were just a few of the topics covered over the two days. Our next workshop is on Outdoor Classroom and Garden Program Management July 27th. ... 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.