L.I.F.E. Garden Program
What is the L.I.F.E Garden Program?
Years before the U.S. Government would launch their Healthy Food for Schools initiative, here on Lopez Island, Henning Sehmsodrf and Elizabeth Simpson, of S & S Center for Sustainable Agriculture, had already planted the seed.
Why, if surrounded by acres of rich farmland, were our school children eating an unpalatable diet of frozen commodity foods that arrived by boat? Wasn’t there a healthier, more sustainable option?
By Autumn 2002, they were determined to do something about it. They began teaching an elective at Lopez Island High School called Farm to School. Basing the curriculum on sustainable agricultural practices, they offered their homestead as an outdoor classroom. Students learned to grow, harvest, prepare and eat healthy foods while also donating the greens they grew to the school cafeteria.
But after 3 successful years, the impulse to expand the program to grades K-12 had burgeoned beyond what they alone were capable of.
From Seedling to Sapling
For a kernel of plant life to sprout and mature, the appropriate environment must be cultivated. In the case of the Lopez Island Farm Education (L.I.F.E.) program, that cultivation was, and continues to be, largely collaborative.
In January 2006, a formalized joint effort arose between the Lopez Community Land Trust, S&S Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Heller family, and the Lopez Island School District, making it an official part of the school curriculum.
Light shone in from all corners of the community. Parents donated time to build raised beds. Teachers stayed after class to construct rabbit proof fences. Gardeners shared their time and expertise.
They say it takes a village.
Today, over a decade later, each of the students from grades K-12 participate in the appreciation of nature and nutrition through the practice land stewardship. They are taught to seed, plant, care for, harvest, process and prepare healthy food in a sustainable manner, and much of their bounty is then served to them in the school cafeteria.
It is, quite arguably, the pride of our little island but we can’t do it without your help.
The L.I.F.E program is only as sustainable as our community is collaborative. Typically, the Lopez Island School garden produces approximately 10,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables annually, used in the school cafeteria. For this to be possible two primary gardeners are on staff; they plant, harvest, process and maintain the gardens and mentor the students.
For the garden program to thrive and survive, it needs support from the community in the form of monetary donations and volunteers.