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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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