By Camille Lozano
A sprawling farm in Encinitas is a paradise of produce. Bulging watermelons, colorful peppers and tomatoes with wild stripes sprawl out over several acres, resting on warm soil. Vines steadily climb a chain-link fence while bright green lima-bean pods share space with tiny grasshoppers.
The earth here is rich with nutrients from soil that’s painstakingly bulldozed down nearly three feet, tilled with fertilized mulch and drip watered. The dirt has become a sponge, and the hope is that the students and community members who visit the farm will be inspired to do some absorbing of their own.
That’s because this farm isn’t out to make a profit. The Farm Lab, a product of the Encinitas Unified School District, is designed to educate youth, while growing healthy food for school cafeterias.
The project is five years in the making. “We’re in a great neighborhood for learning,” said Timothy Baird, who serves as superintendent of the district’s nine elementary schools. “We wanted something that tied into our commitment to health and wellness across the district.”
Farm Lab is located across the street from the San Diego Botanic Gardens and a short walk away from the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, SeaCrest Retirement Village and several other organizations that make up the Encinitas Environment Education cluster. The cluster partners with Farm Lab to create unique learning opportunities in the community.
“It’s all about thinking outside, not just outside the box,” says Farm Lab director Mim Michelove. “It’s important to get outside those four walls.”
The farm has acres of organic crop fields dedicated to fruits and vegetables that are destined for school lunches. Six tons of produce were grown last year for healthy meals, and the district hopes to reach 10 tons this year.
On the education side, fifth-graders will have the chance to weigh in on water conservation through a three-day workshop at Farm Lab, says Andree Grey, assistant superintendent of Educational Services. The students will talk to local farmers, visit a reclamation plant and a lagoon, and conduct experiments with water filtration. Through it all, they’ll try to answer an important question: How can we use water more effectively?
“They are doing what real researchers do,” Grey says. “It’s especially exciting for our students to participate in creating these projects. They’ll take that learning with them wherever they go.”
[call_to_action color=”” button_text=”Support Farm Lab” button_url=”http://www.eusdfarmlab.com/”]
Learn more about EUSD Farm Lab, sign up to volunteer on the farm, or donate to the program. Every $250 donation supplies a fruit tree, supports educational programming, helps grow organic food for school lunch, and cultivates a healthier community!
Kindergarteners, meanwhile, will visit the farm to learn about the life cycle of pumpkins, and kids in first through fourth grades will drop by for other instruction. All of these lessons are made possible through SDG&E’s Environmental Champion Funding, which amplifies learning beyond typical classroom experiences. SDG&E employees also rolled up their sleeves to help plant a community food forest that will allow locals to pick and eat straight from the fruit trees.
“SDG&E helps make it possible to provide rich educational opportunities, materials and resources like quality art and engineering supplies, and access to the neighboring San Diego Botanic Garden for additional research that increases student depth and breadth of knowledge,” Michelove says.
Farm Lab isn’t just a showcase for agriculture-related education. Students also learn about science, engineering and even marketing and advertising. For example, students created marketing posters with slogans like “Don’t Panic, It’s Organic” and “Root for Healthy Lunch” to promote produce from the farm.
Roz Light, an Encinitas parent, says the farm helps kids understand where their food comes from. “It gives kids more incentive to actually eat stuff at the salad bar if they know where it grew,” Light says. “They can make that connection. It really shines a whole new fresh light on healthy options.”
The Farm Lab features an acre for educational gardening, a three-acre community garden, a community forest and more in the works such as a mobile garden and test kitchen.
“This isn’t just farm to school,” Michelove says. “It’s farm at school.”