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Garden-Based Education Supports Whole Child Learning and Wellness
Properties, Projects, Agriculture
by Vicki Lowell
on May 10, 2023

In May, the community was invited to the Culinary Garden and Teaching Kitchen at Starlight Elementary School in Watsonville to get a glimpse of what happens when the love of learning, healthy food, and nature are cultivated as part of a curriculum.

The garden-based education program at Starlight is a partnership with Life Lab, a national leader in the garden-based learning movement. Life Lab provides the curriculum and instruction for PVUSD students. A grant from The Emeril Lagasse Foundation got the program off the ground and that investment is being scaled throughout the Pajaro Valley United School District with the help of special one-time public funding from the community. The collaboration demonstrates what is possible when agencies, foundations, individuals, and the community come together to invest in new education initiatives that transform the way children learn and thrive.

Dr. Michelle Rodriguez, Superintendent of Schools for PVUSD, and Starlight Principal, Dr. Jackie Medina, spoke with guests about the program and the many ways it benefits students, parents, teachers. Every student from TK through 5th grade works in the garden or kitchen for 45 minutes each week. The program has improved students’ scientific knowledge, enthusiasm for learning, connection to nature, and social and emotional skills. And it’s not just the children that are benefitting—parental involvement has taken off since the program’s inception.

PVUSD is one of the leading Districts across the U.S. implementing Garden Classrooms. According to Dr. Rodriguez, “The garden-centered and hands-on curriculum provides students with a unique and proven way to learn Next Generation Science Standards while positively impacting their social-emotional learning.” Both Dr. Rodrigues and Dr. Medina expressed gratitude to the community for their support.

It was delightful and inspiring to see the students in this environment. Whether they were working in the garden, peeling cucumbers for agua frescas, or adding kitchen scraps to the compost pile, there were smiles all around!

At the Land Trust, we wholeheartedly agree that providing science-based education that engages youth and provides more opportunities to learn about where their food comes from is essential. It is one of our primary goals for Watsonville Slough Farm. As we develop the property, we’re partnering with organizations that are already doing great work in this area such as Life Lab, Watsonville Wetlands Watch, and Esperanza Community Farms—an organic farm and leader in the food justice movement in Pajaro Valley. We believe these collaborations lift us all up and expand everyone’s ability to serve the needs of our entire community.

You can learn more about our plans for Watsonville Slough Farm and the other exciting projects we have planned by attending our community-wide Conservation Roadmap kick-off on Sunday, June 25, at Bargetto Winery. To learn more and sign-up click here!