One Cool Earth is a non-profit providing school gardens and outdoor education 

PASO ROBLES — For the first time, Paso Robles Joint Unified School District entered a district-wide contract with One Cool Earth (OCE), a local non-profit dedicated to creating garden programs for schools. Now, all seven of the District’s elementary schools feature a school garden with educational opportunities.

Students can bring produce home to their families and follow virtual cooking classes provided by OCE. Contributed photo

Evie Kinkade, OCE Director of Communications and Operations, commented, “That was an incredible and bold move for the District because before that, we were in only two schools. To have the District level say, ‘this is a perfect program we want for everyone,’ that was huge.”

Following the contract agreement at the start of the 2021/2022 school year, three new gardens were built, and an update on the program was provided at the Tuesday, Mar. 8 school board meeting. Since their partnership started, OCE gardens have served 3,600 taste tests, harvested and distributed over 300 lbs of garden produce, and taught over 350 lessons in the gardens.

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Since its founding in 2001, OCE has held onto the same vision: Every Child Deserves a Place to Grow. They offer outdoor education allowing students to benefit from hands-on science taught in their school gardens. OCE has been working toward a more sustainable future for our community for 21 years but has seen more growth in the last year than any year prior. 

“I find they’re [students] motivated because they are excited to be there,” says Kinkade, “they almost don’t realize that they are learning because we do it in such a hands-on way.”

OCE utilizes its Earth Genius Curriculum in the gardens as part of its educational promise to the districts. The curriculum is aligned with what students are learning in the classrooms but takes it a step further. It includes nine series, including: 

  • Alive and Well in Watershed
  • Drought Tolerant Landscapes
  • From Seed to Table to Compost
  • Flow of Water in Ecosystems, Food-Systems, and Homes
  • Bugs, Humans, and Soil
  • All About Cycles
  • Food, Water, and Drought
  • Different Climates, Different Habitats
  • Grow, Cook, Eat

Each school garden is partnered with an OCE garden manager who is responsible for helping maintain the garden and lead lessons. 

Feedback from students is overwhelmingly positive, “They love it — they look forward to having garden time,” says Kinkade.

She adds, “Generally when students come out to learn outside, they’re excited. It switches it up from the monotony of the classroom.”

Many of the schools with gardens have developed lunch garden clubs, where students are allowed to spend their lunchtime in the garden — for the little ones who can’t get enough of it.

“You definitely get those garden kids that are obsessed with the garden, and every chance they get, they’re out there. You become very familiar with those kids because it’s their ‘thing,'” says Kinkade.

While OCE is currently partnered with 23 schools in the county, PRJUSD and Atascadero Unified School District (AUSD) are leading the charge when it comes to outdoor education. AUSD was the first to sign a district-wide contract with the non-profit, with PRJUSD not far behind.

Each garden includes a composting bin, which were recently revived at the Paso schools with worms, providing another useful lesson for the children to bring home. Produce grown in the gardens is given to students to bring home with the option to participate in a Zoom cooking lesson with their family. The most recent lesson was vegetarian tacos.

OCE offers all its lessons online, with videos and workbooks. To learn more about One Cool Earth, visit onecoolearth.org

Schools have begun developing Green Teams and lunch garden clubs for students who can’t get enough of the gardens. Contributed photo