Lake County's First School Garden Conference Inspired by Local Collaborative

On Wednesday, February 26th , educators from across Lake County gathered for a daylong School Garden Conference in Middletown. The conference, organized by the NCO Gardens Project, was a professional development opportunity for those working to incorporate gardening into their students’ education.

Kelseyville Elementary School, Cobb Mountain Elementary School, Riviera Elementary School, Middletown Christian School, Middletown International Charter School, and the Konocti School District all sent representatives to take back information to their respective sites. Many attendees were part of the Lake County School Garden Collaborative, a group of teachers, parents, and administrators who gather seasonally to exchange best practices and work together to address the challenges that face school garden programs.

The School Garden Conference was made possible by the fundraising efforts of Middletown International Charter School. Attendees took part in a variety of learning opportunities where they exchanged ideas about maintaining their school gardens and using them as educational tools. Barbara Howe, Health Services program coordinator of CalFresh Healthy Living, led an interactive activity about connecting the garden to curriculum standards. She demonstrated that a school garden could be a living classroom for evidence- based curriculum on any subject, including Math, Science, and Language Arts.

Cindy Leonard, co- founder of the Lake County School Garden Collaborative, led the group in a discussion about fundraising in the afternoon. Leonard has been involved with the Cobb Mountain Elementary school garden since her daughter attended the school. She says, “School Gardens help our students educationally and emotionally, as well as helping them learn healthy eating habits. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult for schools to fund these outdoor classrooms. By banding together to form the Lake County School Garden Collaborative, we can leverage resources and find ways to financially support these important gardens.”

Following the fundraising forum, the group visited the Middletown Community Garden for a workshop about soil fertility and compost. The workshop was led by the U.C. Master Gardeners of Lake County. There, educators were joined by many local community gardeners who share a passion for growing fresh, healthy food and were happy to share their insights into gardening in Lake County.

At the end of the day, educators collaborated on a garden planning session. As they looked forward to the upcoming planting season and school year, they developed a timeline of action steps for their gardens and how to continue to make the gardens engaging and educationally valuable for students. While discussing action steps to make their goals a reality, the conversations hinged on fundraising and volunteer efforts.

School garden educators cannot accomplish the goal of bringing gardening to the classroom without the widespread support of their community. If you would like to learn more about the School Garden Collaborative and how you can get involved, email Cindy Leonard at

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