Life Lab

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

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)  Expand and enrich garden-based learning opportunities in elementary school gardens.

2)  Provide Blooming Classroom field trip programs in science exploration, garden-enhanced nutrition education, and connection with nature

3)  Develop a long-term model of sustained funding to continue this work.

 

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.

 

1. 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.

 

 

2. 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.

 

Click image to view Blooming Classroom photos
Blooming Classroom

 

3. 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

follow us on Facebook

5 days ago

Life Lab

Headed to New Leaf Community Markets for some shopping?

You can cast your Envirotoken Vote for your favorite non-profit (Hint: Life Lab 😄 ) every time you shop until December 16th.

Ask for your paper ballet at every store!Vote for Life Lab to be a New Leaf Community Markets Envirotoken recipient every time you shop! Paper ballots will be in every New Leaf store until Dec. 16h! See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

1 week ago

Life Lab

Vote for Life Lab to be a New Leaf Community Markets Envirotoken recipient every time you shop! Paper ballots will be in every New Leaf store until Dec. 16h! See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

2 weeks ago

Life Lab

We’ve kicked off our Year End Giving Campaign by raising $4600 on #givingtuesday. Thank you!

For 2019 Life Lab wants to bring more children into school gardens than ever before. More hands in dirt, more love of healthy foods and more kids saying, "I’m a scientist!"

Donate Today!! lifelab.org/donate See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

3 weeks ago

Life Lab

"Wow, these seeds are so tiny. It’s hard to imagine that they are going to grow into something so big!"

Your donation to Life Lab awakens curiosity in children, join us for #GivingTuesday and plant seeds of hope for the future!

www.lifelab.org/donate

#BeAPartOfIt, #Donate, #SeedsOfHope, #MakingChange See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

3 weeks ago

Life Lab

#GivingTuesday is still going strong. Doesn’t it feel great to know everyone working together can make a real difference? Be a part of the movement! www.lifelab.org/donate
#BeAPartOfIt
See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

3 weeks ago

Life Lab

We share our work nationally through workshops and curriculum for teachers and our School Garden Support Organization Leadership Program. Participating educators tell us this impacts over 500,000 students annually!

Be a part of it! www.lifelab.org/donate

#GivingTuesday, #SmallOrganizationNationalReach, #donate, #nonprofit, #BeAPartOfIt See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

3 weeks ago

Life Lab

We look to our work with children and understand that now, more than ever, we must raise our children to be loving stewards of the Earth. For the next generation to protect, defend, and preserve the Earth, they must understand and love it. A gift to Life Lab connects 500,000 children each year across the nation to the natural world, and allows them to discover their potential to care for it. YOU can influence change today by supporting Life Lab’s work.

www.lifelab.org/donate

#OnlyOnePlanet, #ProtectWhatYouLove See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

3 weeks ago

Life Lab

“Kids participated in garden lessons right before recess. Once recess began, however, they didn’t want to leave the garden! They thought it was better than recess!” ~1st Grade Teacher & Garden Champion at a Santa Cruz County school

This #GivingTuesday, join us in sharing joy and curiosity with thousands of children.

www.lifelab.org/donate

#BeAPartOfIt, #optoutside, #healthykids, #giveback, #donate, #PayItForward, #nonprofit, #SantaCruzCounty See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

3 weeks ago

Life Lab

Last school year, Life Lab’s Santa Cruz County programs served:
-5,193 students
-over 900 lessons
-143 teachers’ classes
-37 schools

This #GivingTuesday, help ensure we can offer these hands-on, life-changing programs to children regardless of what they can pay.

www.lifelab.org/donate See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

3 weeks ago

Life Lab

“I love making the rainbow smoothie. It had something new for me–that was the spinach. I made it at home. I love it and my mom made something new!”

~ Amesti Elementary School 4th Grader as part of our Kids Cook program

Your gift today helps us offer 70% of our garden-based programs FREE to children whose families/schools could not otherwise afford them.

www.lifelab.org/donate

#GivingTuesday, #BeAPartOfIt, #optoutside, #healthykids, #giveback, #donate, #PayItForward, #nonprofit See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

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