Children & Nature
After a short morning urban nature walk from China Town to Lake Merritt, I arrived at the Marriott City Center East Ballroom to see hundreds of nature advocates and educators tuning into a Star studded keynote opening; speakers included the author and co-founder of CNC, Richard Louv, Mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf, Joseph Cornell, Gail Christopher, and many other time tested activists in the movement to ensure every child has the right to enjoy nature like previous generations. After the speakers reminded us all why we were in attendance, the room dispersed like a bustlin’ bee hive ready to absorb more nectar!
The first workshop I attended was about Greening Schoolyards and Cities. Open Lands, The Trust for Public Land, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Green Schoolyards America, and the Oakland Unified School District gave an amazing panel on work being done in Chicago and the Bay Area to completely rethink the way playgrounds are built in school settings. From funding to community engagement, panelists touched on executed projects in Chicago, and new initiatives in Oakland. Foundations, public bonds, and private investment were all complementary to making sure that local residents and organizations are involved in every step of the timeline.
During lunch, I chose to attend a session about supporting and growing nature based businesses. An entrepreneur from Australia facilitated the session, first having everyone in the room to give a quick introduction of themselves. After that, she split us up into categories touched upon in the introductions; funding, marketing, partnerships, products, and creating value were the table topics. Due to a bombardment of emails, I ended up excusing myself from the rest of this session.
After lunch I attended a workshop about networks and collective impact. Green Schoolyards America, WI School Garden Network, and Life Lab discussed the different ways they are able to coordinate their networks, which are state and nation wide. As a burgeoning network planner, I was extremely glad to know that there are even more existing networks around educational gardens, including the Collective School Garden Network, which has information on stating a case for gardens, how to start a garden, teaching in the garden, and sustaining the garden. Over the past few years I have been thinking and acting on solidifying these networks in my city, so it was a great learning opportunity to hear from others that are doing similar work. MIG, a landscape and nature based group also has software that helps map networks, utilizing people and organizations to show a greater perspective of interactions and skills. I hope to gain access to this software to create an asset map for SA’s agri-culinary ecosystem.
The last workshop of Day 1 concluded with research students and their professor detailing their literature review of studies focused on nature contact and children's health. The review was specific to articles about children in nature, not just children being outdoors. They narrowed the literature down to 300 publications, and are still sifting through the data. Their hope is to highlight this field of research, as not much has been done in regards to big data analysis.
I opted to sleep-in a little and forgo the keynotes. I stepped into the first round of workshops at 10:30a to see this impassioned guy talking about Generation Wild, and how Colorado is investing millions of advertising and programming funds to influence a generation of Colorado Children. The marketing campaign devised by Sukle and Great Outdoors Colorado is inspiring to say the least. From the 40 foot fort, to the 8 foot mascot Wilder, these folks really thought this plan out! Everyone in the room was mesmerized as Mike Sukle gave us stories about present and future implementation. The best part about this campaign is that it’s funded for multiple years, in-part by government agencies, and has the opportunity to spill past Colorado borders in the future! Best believe my gears are turning, as to how we can create a Generation Wild in SA!
After the stimulating workshop about Colorado, I was conflicted about what workshop I should go to next, there were so many great options. Ultimately, I decided on a 7 hour (I know!) workshop. I don’t mean to be a spoiler, but this workshop, which was a field trip, turned out to be the icing on the cake! At 1:00pm we left Oakland, headed to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. It took ~45 minutes for us to arrive at Golden Gate Park’s Koret Children’s Quarter, advertised as the nation’s oldest park for children, built in the late 1800’s. Park stewards from San Francisco Parks and Recreation gave us a history of the park, followed by architects from Landscape Structures and MIG. Needless to say, I have a newfound respect for Golden Gate Park, and the amount of thought put into the original and redesigned play structures; from sand, to slides, to seating, there wasn’t one feature that didn’t require careful attention in the design process. After the history lesson our instructors unleashed us on the park, giving us 90 minutes to explore. Naturally I gravitated to the Conservatory of Flowers, a massive greenhouse with 5 rooms of tropical plant installations. I was hoping to check out the Japanese Tea Gardens as well, but before long it was time for happy hour at the beach chalet! Needless to say, all of the field trippers got to chat with the presenters, drink some splendid adult beverages, taste good food, and laugh in the sunshine while the Pacific Ocean waves serenaded us with natural tones. It truly was a day of California Dreaming!
On the last day of the conference I started to get a little nervous, as my presentation was at 10:30a! After listening to esteemed and highly respected founders, CEO’s and Executive Directors, I wasn’t quite sure what I could say that wasn’t already announciated. As usual, I decided to go a little off-script by totally recreating my presentation 2 hours before lift-off! At 10:00a I darted out of my AirBNB, stopped by a local cafe for a coconut water and green tea, and arrived to my presentation room in the nick of time to set up! Lucky for me, my computer didn’t have the correct connections, so conference and hotel staff came to the rescue with another computer! During the technical difficulties I asked the attendees to discuss the three themes of the talk, health justice, environmental justice, and garden-based learning. Once the ice was broken, I then began my revised presentation, starting off with the story of Gardopia. Shortly afterwards I did a quick review of the agricultural revolution, obesity, and how this all ties into the concept of social justice. During the Q&A session, there were many great individuals who enlivened the conversation around social justice, health, food shaming, cultural respect, funding, research, and student engagement. In all honesty, I probably learned more from the participants and our discussion, than they did from me! This leads to my last point...gardening is pseudo-activism, a true way to break down barriers, and grow healthier, more equitable and environmentally conscious communities. In no way am I suggesting that gardening is the total solution to righting the injustices that have been in place for centuries, if not millennia, but it is a good first step. A mostly non-confrontational way of reclaiming land to sow seeds of health and wellness. Whether its horticultural therapy, nutrition, STEM, community building, or creating green space in the concrete jungle, gardening has a place in every neighborhood. Taking that a step further, we must urge our legislators to value this form of project-based learning, integrating garden-based learning into state standardized curriculum.There are many examples of organizations like the Edible Schoolyard, Junior Master Gardeners, and Big Green that have proven out this mode of learning. My hope is that within movements like Children and Nature that the resources and research is available for any school district, community center, or educational institution to not only start, but grow a thriving garden and outdoor classroom for generations to come!
Until next time,
Stephen Lucke, BS, COF, CSCS