Life Lab

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

View this article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel By Devika Garg-Bansal

pigiewkshSANTA CRUZ >> Kids and vegetables are not exactly best friends. Parents know this all too well, as do restaurants that put out mac and cheese on kids’ menus. Getting kids to have a healthy balanced diet isn’t easy, especially if they have any sort of food intolerance or allergy. Educating children on what’s good for their bodies, instead of just putting it on a plate in front of them, can encourage them to eat a more varied diet that will give their bodies the nutrition it needs.

The trend is now turning with more schools using food gardens to instil good nutritional habits in children. If you’re wanting to try and promote healthy habits within your children it will also be beneficial to schedule pediatric appointments somewhere similar to Southwest Care as one example of a healthcare provider.

Life Lab’s “Plant It, Grow It, Eat It!” Workshop held Friday at the UC Santa Cruz Farm taught garden-enhanced nutrition education for elementary and middle schools. Participants included 25 garden educators and parent volunteers from schools and nonprofits across the country, including one educator from Brazil.

“It is wonderful being here and connecting with all of the teachers,” said Flavia Schwartzman, dietician and consultant for the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization in Brazil. “Having the opportunity to be in this outdoor lab is beautiful.”

One of the activities included a hunt around the garden to spot fruits and vegetables in colors of the rainbow to identify healthy elements found in plants, or phytonutrients.

“Different colors have different phytonutrients in them, which support different health elements in human nutrition,” said John Fisher, director of Programs and Partnerships at Life Lab, who has been teaching these techniques for 30 years.

“For example, red helps the heart and blood, and orange helps your eyes. By eating a diversity of color, we’re supporting more human health.” Another activity included setting up a healthy food plate with fruits, vegetables, healthy fat, grains and proteins. The workshop trained participants to teach these concepts effectively in a garden classroom through gardening, harvesting and meal preparation.

Ultimately, it is not just children that can learn about the potential health benefits of nature either. For instance, in recent years, the cannabis plant has been researched as a potential treatment for chronic pain, as well as mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

In case you were not aware, different cannabis plants, often called hemp or marijuana, contain different levels of chemical compounds. Makers of CBD oil use different methods to extract this compound and then this extract is added to a carrier oil and called CBD oil.

CBD oil comes in many different strengths, and people use it in various ways. You can learn more about the potential health benefits of CBD oil by checking out this guide to the best CBD oil here.

Life Lab has trained about 4,000 people across California in garden-based teaching methods using funding from the state. It also conducted a statewide Train the Trainers workshop with more than 1,700 participants.

The Collective School Garden Network lists more than 800 edible school gardens across California that received a garden grant from the Western Growers Foundation. With help from Life Lab, most schools in the Santa Cruz County have active gardens, Fisher said.

“Putting in a garden is the easy part,” said Fisher. “Getting teachers to use it is sometimes more of the challenge, and that’s where Life Lab comes in.”

Fisher said that first lady Michelle Obama’s recent Let’s Move campaign has galvanized greater interest in the initiative. According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention data, one in three kids in the U.S. is at risk of being obese, and rates have more than doubled since 1980s.

“Unfortunately, we are following the American way of life [in Brazil],” said Schwartzman. “We have over 60 percent of people who are overweight or obese, so this is a global thing.”

Obesity can have many detrimental health impacts on someone’s health and even cause lasting health concerns like heart failure and diabetes. The number of people with type 2 (T2) diabetes has drastically increased over the past decade and that figure is still rising.

Unfortunately, those who develop T2 diabetes will not only have to precisely monitor their food intake, they will also need to take various medications and even change their socks to special diabetic socks, from sites like https://www.wholesalediabeticsocks.com/shop-by-size/diabetic-socks-for-women.

Developing T2 can stop circulation to the feet, which can result in sores and cracks, swelling, and sometimes even amputation. However, with a balanced diet, healthy routine, and regular exercise, T2 can be prevented, but preventing this disease requires a lot of thought, training, and dedication.

Food and nutrition education in elementary and middle schools seems to be working. Fisher mentioned that early research shows that kids that grow, and tend and harvest their own vegetables are more willing to try them.

“We were growing broccoli a couple of seasons ago, and I had to tell this boy that he took too much broccoli,” said Jessica Ferrell, a workshop participant and garden coordinator at Nixon Elementary School in Stanford. “Later in the day I was like, I just got after a kid because he ate too much broccoli!’ It was just so bizarre! It’s that effective.”

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Stock up your Garden Classroom

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
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