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

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13 hours ago

Life Lab

Join us for Life Lab’s Annual Benefit Brunch! Complimentary delicious meal and an inspiring program. 😋

Event is complimentary, and we hope to inspire you to make a meaningful donation toward growing healthy children! 🌱

Sunday, May 19th // 11am-1:30pm // MacQuiddy Elementary, Watsonville

Register Here
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18 hours ago

Life Lab

Be part of our Garden Classroom workshops. Join educators from all over the country and possibly from around the world. Continual Education Credit is available for most of our workshops.

Register today! bit.ly/2V9iToG See MoreSee Less

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6 days ago

Life Lab

It was an absolute pleasure working with such a stellar group of educators. Thank you all for the great work you are doing at MDUSD Science and Garden Education Program.

We look forward to working with you in the near future."This is the best day of work EVER!" -Direct quote from a teacher participant in yesterday’s "NGSS in the Garden" workshop at Sun Terrace Elementary by Life Lab. Whitney Cohen led classroom teachers from 6 different elementary schools in an amazing, in-depth training on how to implement the new Next Generation Science Standards in that tried-and-true method of "learning by doing". On the agenda were 3 sample lessons, lots more demoed garden activities, debriefs with deep dives into the 3 strands of the NGSS, and practical exercises on how to plan new lessons using the 5E’s and how to "NGSS-ify" existing science lessons. What a day!

Out heartfelt thanks to Battery Powered for making this workshop possible! See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

PSSST!!! Keep this between us but we still have very limited spaces for our Garden Sprouts Camp for 4-6 year olds. Spaces are filling up fast.

More details and registration at www.lifelab.org/camp/ See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

🌱Moment of the Month🌱

We hosted a gathering of Central Coast school garden educators and allies in March at Life Lab’s birthplace, Green Acres Elementary School in Live Oak. It was great to see old and new friends there and share updates from many local school garden programs.

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

Our friends at the Children & Nature Network are hosting the 2019 Children & Nature Network International Conference in Oakland, California, May 16-18, 2019. We’ll be there — and we hope you’ll join us at this premier gathering of leaders, advocates and activists from the children and nature movement. You’ll be inspired by three days of powerful keynotes, expertly-curated workshops, field trips and events designed to support the work you do to connect children, families and communities to nature. Help spread the word and get the conversation going at #CNC2019. See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

Life Lab is turning 40 this year! There is nothing that would make us happier than to reconnect with you.

🌱Have you attended a Life Lab summer camp or field trip?

🐞Are you a past intern?

🍏Have we made a meaningful difference in your life?

If so, please share your story by using #MyLifeLab or email us at manny@lifelab.org. We would love to share your stories with the world! See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

Come explore the garden and farm with us! Our camp days will include harvesting, making garden snacks, exploring the farm, singing, storytelling, garden caretaking, garden crafts, and investigation of the natural world. This camp serves 24 campers with a 1:6 ratio of instructors to campers, allowing us to tailor camp activities to the ages and interests of our campers.

Hurry, limited spaces are filling fast! Most slots are taken. We only have Tues/Thurs available for 4-6 year olds. ALL other ages are filled. For more info and register click here bit.ly/2FC277X?platform=hootsuite&utm_campaign=HSCampaign . For questions contact Amy at (831)-459-4035 or email amy@lifellab.org See MoreSee Less

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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