“A safe, equitable, inclusive space to learn outside:” Westside Long Beach Boys and Girls Club revamps garden programming thanks to Ground Education partnership

Students at the Boys and Girls Club of Long Beach Eastman/Fairfield Center dug up Yukon gold potatoes this week, one of the many edible plants at the garden. (Courtesy Boys and Girls Club of Long Beach)

The Westside Boys and Girls Club is partnering with Ground Education to provide gardening programming for youth in an area with historically low access to green space.

“The addition of these garden spaces and locations on the Westside is definitely best for that community,” said Amanda Kincaid, communications and development associate for the Boys and Girls Club. “Making sure those kids have a safe, equitable, inclusive space to learn outside.”

Ground Education is a nonprofit providing gardening programming to over 5,000 kids across Long Beach Unified School District and the Boys and Girls Club. 

“We aim to provide garden and environmental experiences for every student, where we allow them to have creative freedom, capacity for wonder,” Kincaid said. “We basically cultivate a space through them to think, explore and connect with nature.”

The addition of these garden spaces and locations on the Westside is definitely best for that community, making sure those kids have a safe, equitable, inclusive space to learn outside.

Amanda Kincaid, Ground Education communications and development associate

The Boys and Girls Club of Long Beach offers a place of respite for parents and children. For $15 a year, children have access to homework assistance, arts and crafts, sports programs, game rooms, a solid internet connection and, now, garden programming.

“Our core mission is to provide youths with opportunities, opportunities that would not normally have, provide a safe place,” said Don Rodriguez, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Long Beach. “We’re there for children and families that need us the most.”

Ground Education’s gardening projects don’t just teach kids how to grow their own vegetables. For them, gardening is a conduit for learning all subjects.

“We try and pair whatever curriculum is being taught in the class, pulling it outside and pairing it with science-based learning, math-based learning, reading and writing,” Kincaid said.

Students use one of Ground Education’s outdoor hand washing sinks to rinse off freshly-picked radishes. (Courtesy Boys and Girls Club of Long Beach)

Their programming includes classes on Indigenous gardening methods, healthy eating, the effects of pollution and the existence of food deserts. 

“It’s not just learning about nature-based things,” she said. “They’re able to see the connection and bring it back into the classroom and vice-versa.”

For younger children, gardening can be a sensory experience that helps with their development. The feeling of soil running through curious hands, water splashing onto leaves, the sights, sounds and—in edible gardens—tastes, all contribute to childhood development.

And boy, do kids love dirt.

“What we do find, which is just amazing at any age, [is] just how much kids love putting their hands into the dirt,” she said. “They have no issues digging holes and just doing all the fun dirty work.”

Last week, kids at the Boys and Girls Club took markers to paper and outlined what they’d like to see in the garden.

Kincaid said that anytime they enter a new location, they take student wants into consideration—a sort of visioning process that fosters a sense of ownership over the garden. She said whatever the kids want to grow, they’ll grow. 

“The importance of this is to make sure that they feel that it’s their space, because we want them knowing that when they come to the space, it’s completely their own,” she said. “It’s uniquely theirs.”

Ground Education students wear butterfly rings during a class on the native milkweed plant, which the nonprofit tries to integrate into every school garden. (Courtesy Ground Education)

The Westside Boys and Girls Club had garden beds prior to the Ground Education partnership, but Kincaid said they “definitely need some refurbishing.” Rodriguez said that the nonprofit has “really taken it to the next level.”

“We’ve been around for over 80 years here in Long Beach and we continue to have to pivot and change to the needs of the community to the needs of the family,” Rodriguez said. “We try to be on the forefront of that, making things available to make it easier for the youth and families that we serve.”

As for Long Beach Unified School District students who may be worrying about their school gardens, Kincaid assured that they’re being well-taken care of. 

“These gardens are fully growing, blooming and looking beautiful,” she said. “And they’re ready for the students.”

To keep up with Ground Education and their work in the community, you can visit their website here or follow them on social media at @groundeducation. 

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