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November 5, 2012 / Rick Swann

Bay Area School Gardens

I had a great week in the Bay Area visiting school gardens. I began by meeting with Rachel Pringle of Education Outside ( and co-author of “How to Grow a School Garden” in San Francisco. Education Outside is working with the San Francisco School District to green the school yards in the city. The city recently passed a bond issue to pay for this work and besides helping plan the outdoor areas, Education Outside is training educators in how to integrate these outdoor learning spaces into the curriculum. I visited several of the gardens that are in use already and was impressed by their beauty as well as their design that encourages their use as outdoor learning spaces.

I also visited the Edible Schoolyard ( in Berkeley. The garden has so many wonderful hang-out spaces and kids were using them. An after-school class was in session while i was there and kids were cooking in a large outdoor pizza oven. I loved that ducks and chickens were roaming free throughout the garden and the the students I saw seemed to be excited by the birds as well. It is a huge space with fruit trees, arbors, berries and lots of vegetable beds. I have to admit that I then walked the half mile or so up to Chez Panisse and that I had a memorable meal there!

My last stop was Santa Cruz where I visited Life Lab ( and several of the gardens they have designed at local schools. The Life Lab learning garden had a class in session while I was there and the students were obviously engaged and having fun. Life Lab is a national leader in farm and garden-based education that promotes experiential learning for all ages through children’s camps, field trips, internships and teacher workshops. It was so peaceful being in the garden there that it was hard to leave. It sits by itself on a hill outside of town on the University of California at Santa Cruz campus. From parts of the garden you can see out to the Pacific Ocean.

What impressed me most about the gardens I visited was their size and the incorporation of kid-friendly hang out areas. They begged you to want to be in them and most were large enough that you you felt separate from the busy world of school or city. A lot of the gardens also had cool art work. The other thing I couldn’t get over coming from further north where we have some cold were all the outdoor sinks I saw. In fact I think all the gardens I visited had at least one outdoor sink. Obviously they don’t get the freezing temperatures we experience in Seattle. After the nice sunshine and warmth I had, I have to admit it was a bit hard to get back on the plane that took me home!

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