Closing Remarks from 40th Anniversary Gala
Our vision for Life Lab’s next 40 years will sound familiar to many of you who pioneered this work and organization. After much reflection about who we are, what we do best, and what our community’s children and schools need, we made this the first line of our vision in 2017:
Life Lab will catalyze and support the establishment of garden-based experiential learning as a core part of elementary school education in Santa Cruz County public schools.
In our current strategic plan, we aim for half of the county’s 40 public elementary schools to have sustained garden programs used to teach core curriculum by 2021.
A key word here is SUSTAINED. We want to partner with schools, districts and the community to ensure that local school garden classrooms and programming are sustained through the ups and downs of future budget cycles and economic swings. As we stood in the Green Acres garden yesterday, Gary Appel said, “School gardens ebb and flow over time – it’s amazing to see this one still here after 40 years!” Some garden classrooms in our county have not been as lucky, instead turning to weeds and broken-down structures during periods of hardship or loss of a key champion. That is heartbreaking to see, and it has been a privilege to help bring some of these gardens back to life recently in the Pajaro Valley. Ensuring that they never fall into disuse and disrepair again is a responsibility we hold tightly now — this is something at which we cannot fail. Because the loss of a school garden affects hundreds of children every year, impacting their academic success, their wellness, and a lifetime of opportunities.
As we have seen and heard tonight, having a garden classroom changes young lives profoundly and beautifully, inspiring children to wonder, think, connect and dream big. All children deserve this, and our purpose is making sure they have that opportunity.
Another key element of our recent vision commitment was that Life Lab will be a leading trainer and curriculum provider for garden-based educators across the U.S., and will play a leadership role in national networks promoting garden-based learning in schools.
Through the remarkable legacy of our Pioneers, the inspiring work of our current team, and tremendous partnerships like the one with have with Tristana and the Whole Kids Foundation, we are achieving these goals and shaping the movement for effective and inspiring garden-based learning across the U.S. Whitney’s wonderful story of seeing a photo of the annual White House Garden spring planting in 2015 and realizing that every adult in the picture (except Michelle Obama) had been to a Life Lab training illustrates our impact on this larger landscape.
You may have noticed one of our newer partners on the program – Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation. While their director couldn’t be with us tonight, I want to share that with their tremendous support and collaboration, Life Lab is entering a new era – one reminiscent of the heady earlier days of the National Diffusion Network and Life Lab’s recognition as a vital model for every district in the country. Like Tristana, Lyndsey from Sprouts works with schools and organizations across the nation and thinks a lot about how to move needles in big ways. Her first words to us on the phone last fall, after multiple people had pointed her our way, were “I’m crushing on you guys!” This was because she realized we were already doing things she was dreaming of starting, like facilitating a National SGSO Network, and we soon realized that we had another dream in common, too. With a big commitment from the Foundation, we are extending our year-round work with our SGSO colleagues, inspired by the Institute, and in April 2021, we will co-host a new biennial conference to help catalyze this movement further: the National School Garden Leadership Summit: Sustaining School Gardens for a Healthier Future.
So, we have big visions and big opportunities both locally and nationally. To succeed, we also need to grow as an organization in the coming years. That is part of what was so exciting about hearing Judit’s voice in our front office offering to volunteer with us in May. I had known of her work and deep connection with Life Lab for a while, and as I told her very quickly, I had been dreaming of co-directing with her for years. Having Judit’s heart and mind in this daily work toward these visions now, along with the rest of our talented and passionate staff, I know our dreams are in reach. With your continued connection, partnership and support, we will bring lifelong inspiration and opportunity to millions of children, across Santa Cruz County and the nation!