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. Life Lab Partner Schools

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 our Life Lab Partner Schools, contact John Fisher at gardendirector@lifelab.org

School Garden Project Phases:

Phase one:

  • Identify and partner with committed schools.
  • Place 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 Americoprs 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 teacher and student pre/post 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, Americorps 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 maintenance 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 maintenance 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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4 weeks ago

Life Lab

Building on Life Lab’s 40 years of experience in the school garden movement, we’ve updated and put together a series of 4 virtual courses that will guide and support educators in becoming a Life Lab-Certified School Garden Educator. 🌳At Life Lab, we believe the world needs informed, inspired, creative, and collaborative leaders, ready with the skills and the motivation they need to work for justice, sustainability, and healthy communities. And we believe that the garden is an ideal space for growing just such leaders! Now, more than ever, we need dedicated educators to lead children in cultivating a love of learning, healthy food and connection to our natural world through garden-based education. 🐝Your support makes this work possible 💚 – thank you for being a part of the Life Lab community and broader school garden movement! If you have already donated to Life Lab recently, thank you! If you haven’t yet given this year, please help us keep all of this vital work going and growing by donating now. Gifts of any size are deeply appreciated and have real impacts.www.lifelab.org/donate

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4 weeks ago

Life Lab

🌻 🔬 Next Generation Science in the Garden 🔬🌻 “I’m a Scientist!” exclaim students in the garden, empowered by Life Lab’s inquiry-led approach to science education. A garden is rich with teachable moments inviting observant students to experience foundational life and natural science concepts. As birds fly overhead, plants fruit or bloom or hibernate, decomposers make dirt; students learn science by observation and experience, having fun and gaining deeper academic knowledge. Life Lab’s Next Generation Science in the Garden (NGSG) curriculum is developed by teachers, piloted by garden educators and a wonderful tool for connecting academic curriculum to robust garden environments.Your support makes this work possible – thank you for being a part of the Life Lab community and broader school garden movement! NGSG Curriculum is available now! ow.ly/ATOW50HhQb4

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1 month ago

Life Lab

Thank you for supporting hands-on learning and well-being for all children and being part of the growing school garden movement! We appreciate your partnership and wish you and your loved ones a joyous holiday season.

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I’ve been a teacher educator for 15 years. I started with literacy methods, then migrated to science, but what I most love to teach is garden pedagogy. Thanks to @ucmastergardenersnapaco I was able to bring lessons I learned from @ucdstudentfarm Life Lab and @beetlesproject to Napa. From 2013-2017 the #SchoolGardenTaskForce hosted several workshops aimed at increasing the horticultural knowledge of garden educators. I found a community of like-minded folks to connect with in California. #communityconnection #gardenbasedlearning #learningfromthebest

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2 months ago

Readers To Eaters

#GoodReads in Spanish, incldng LAS CALABACITAS DE ZORA, translatd from Zora’s Zucchini.Also see ESPINACAS DE SYLVIA, translated from Sylvia’s Spinach, a 2020 selection.See full lists from 2019-2021: bit.ly/3rkZa5nBoth SYLVIA and ZORA, in English & Spanish, are available in #audiobooks from Live Oak Media. ..#SpanishChildrensBooks #DiverseBooks #FoodLiteracy REFORMA Reforma Los Angeles ChapterNational Association for Bilingual EducationCABE California Association for Bilingual EducationThe National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) California Association for the Education of Young ChildrenViva Farms Big Green Life Lab Common Threads Farm The Children’s Book Council ALSC – The Association for Library Service to ChildrenThe Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DCOur ’22 Best Spanish Language Picture book list comes out in January. For now, enjoy ’21 @CuentoDeLuz @charlesbridge @reforma @ALALibrary @Candlewick @kokila @BarefootBooks @ReadersToEatersbankstedu.info/3D3NBl3

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Our partners, Life Lab, are hiring to work with #PVUSD students. Check it out!Nuestros socios, Life Lab, están contratando para trabajar con estudiantes de #PVUSD. ¡Échale un vistazo!lifelab.org/about/internships/jobs/Life Lab PVUSD Parents

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2 months ago

Readers To Eaters

Happy National Homemade Bread Day! November is also National Bread Month. Share Bread Lab on the science and joy of whole wheat sourdough breadmaking. bit.ly/2VQjVo7"This engaging picture book about the science and joy of making bread is named for Washington State University’s influential BreadLab and co-written by its managing director, Kim Binczewski, and agricultural scientist Bethany Econopouly. Illustrated lovingly by Hayelin Choi, this book should inspire folks of all ages to explore the world of sourdough baking."Eater SeattleSee video with Kim introducing the book and her work at the WSU Breadlab. bit.ly/3r9RIqz..#NationalHomemadeBreadDay #HomemadeBread #Bread #WholeGrain #WholeWheat #Sourdough #SourdoughStarter #Fermenation #FoodLiteracy #FoodEducation #ScienceEducation #FoodScience #PlantScience #SoilScience #Farming #CulinaryEducation #KidsCooking #FarmToSchool #AgClassroom #AgLiteracy #AITC The Bread Bakers Guild of AmericaNational Agriculture in the Classroom American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture Whole Kids Foundation Pilot Light FoodCorps Life Lab Big Green Washington Ag in the Classroom California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (CFAITC) California Farm to School Edible Schoolyard NYC The Edible Schoolyard Project Center for Ecoliteracy

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3 months ago

Kirby School

Another wonderful Community Involvement day is in the books!Some of the activities students participated in to serve our community today:* Learned and practiced land stewardship (improve biodiversity, revegetation, weed removal)* Food preparation and distribution* Resource conservation* Home construction for low income families* Care and clean up of our community’s shared spacesThank you to these amazing local organizations and groups for their continued work to better our world through the lens of environmental advocacy and social justice: Coastal Watershed CouncilSave Our ShoresHomeless Garden ProjectEvergreen CemeterySan Lorenzo Valley Native Habitat Restoration ProgramGrey BearsLife LabSecond Harvest Food Bank Santa CruzHabitat for Humanity Monterey BayReStore Santa Cruz Home Improvement Store & Donation Centerwww.facebook.com/groups/SantaCruzFoodNotBombsSanta Cruz Museum of Natural HistoryCity of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation

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3 months ago

Readers To Eaters

Happy National STEM Day! #GoodFoodReads for #stemeducation: The Thing About Bees: A Love LetterFarmer Will Allen and the Growing TableBread LabBook info @ bit.ly/xoWr0H Find CurriculumMatrix for these titles @ National Agriculture in the Classroom bit.ly/3H0J9H4 ..#NationalSTEMDay #STEM #STEAM #stemeducation #scienceeducation #gardeneducation #environmentaleducation #MakerEducation #farmtoschool #agclassroom #agliteracy #AITC #FoodLiteracy #naeycAC The Alliance for a Healthier GenerationNational Science Teaching AssociationWSTA-Washington Science Teachers AssociationCalifornia Farm to School National Farm to School Network FoodCorps Big Green Life Lab Edible Schoolyard NYC The Edible Schoolyard Project Green Bronx Machine

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Life Lab 40th
Life Lab’s 40th Gala – Sunday, October 13th  Celebrate 40 years of bringing learning to life in gardens. Learn more  
Life Lab's 40th Gala
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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