California is the birthplace of the school garden movement, with ground zero located at King Middle School in Berkeley. This school partnered with Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse Foundation to turn an asphalt waste land into a thriving Edible Schoolyard that has become central to the way King Middle teaches and learns and an inspiration to schools across the country.

California is not only a national leader in the school garden movement, but also in agricultural production. However, there are still gaps in students’ understanding of the food system, just like in Georgia. Many children, even those raised in the midst of farmland, have never seen a tomato ripen on the vine or tugged a handful of feathery leaves to uproot a homegrown carrot.

The Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) was therefore honored to be invited to Ventura County, sandwiched between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and home of some of the richest agricultural soils in the state, to start the first pilot of the Learning Gardens Program (LGP) outside of Georgia.

Supported by a grant from Keep America Beautiful to work with 8 Ventura schools, CPF put out the first call for LGP applications in September 2013, and now has six schools enrolled, representing four districts. Thirty-six teachers from these schools attended the CPF Learning Garden Conference at Hansen Agricultural Trust in Santa Paula on Jan 31 and Feb 1.

One principal reported that his teachers came back from the workshop inspired and enthusiastic to start using their garden to teach all subjects. In fact, he added, this is the most excited teachers have ever been [after a professional development workshop] to implement their newly-acquired skills, knowledge and resources.

CPF owes the success of the LGP launch in Ventura to our wonderful partners. Mary Maranville of Students for Eco-Education in Agriculture (SEEAg) introduced us to all the right people, including David White of Food For Thought Ojai who has become our local implementer for the program. David organizes garden workdays and installation so that teachers have thriving Learning Gardens at their disposal. Pete Dufau of Dufau Landscaping makes sure that all the gardens have drip irrigation, and Agromin [an organic composting company] donates all the compost for the program.

Other organizations, businesses and individuals have shown their support by participating in our memorable “Afternoon in the Orchard” 2013 fundraiser in partnership with SEEAg at Limoneira, one of the country’s top producers of lemons and avocados.

Thanks to this outpouring of support, new crops will sprout in 10 Ventura County elementary schools this spring: a crop of teachers confident in their capacity to use their school gardens as outdoor laboratories, and a crop of students who will come to new understandings about how food is produced, healthy eating, and the connection between what they learn at their desks and the rhythms of life in the garden.