10-acre Farm Lab for students continues to grow

An update on the latest at the 10-acre Farm Lab and what’s to come was presented on April 20 to the Encinitas Union School District board.

Farm Lab, which aims to give hands-on lessons in science and ecology, began hosting student field trips a year ago. At 441 Quail Gardens Drive in Encinitas, the site in recent months has gained murals on the portable classrooms, features like rain barrels and more crops are sprouting.

“It’s now turning into a very vibrant space,” said Farm Lab Director Mim Michelove.

Michelove said much is in store for the property in the not-too-distant future, including a nutrition lab that’s going through the permitting process and could open as soon as this summer. Plans call for produce grown in a one-acre educational garden to be cooked in the lab, which Michelove said would teach students the “science of nutrition.”

First, third and sixth graders have visited the site, and all grades will take part in student field trips there come next school year. Michelove recalled how first graders recently designed tools to repel farm pests with sound and movement, instead of pesticides.

Students a year ago took part in a timed challenge where they suggested ideas for Farm Lab, drawing upon inspiration from visits to the surrounding San Diego Botanic Garden and Leichtag Foundation property.

Separate from the educational garden, a production farm on the site supplies about 30 percent of a salad bar program for the district’s nine schools, with a five-year goal of providing 75 percent. Michelove said because the production farm is quickly expanding and will ultimately cover 5 acres, the district should hit its 75-percent target quicker than anticipated.

“The soil really is wonderful,” Michelove said. “It just really needs nutrients.”

Michelove said there’s a concerted effort to save water at the property in light of the drought. She called attention to innovative Israeli rain barrels at the site, drip irrigation and soil that was amended to retain as much water as possible.

Trustee Carol Skiljan said she’s excited by what’s happening at Farm Lab, adding it’s “coming full circle” with the area’s agricultural heritage.

A request for Farm Lab’s cost wasn’t returned by press time. Most of the site development is being paid for by Proposition P, a $44 million bond passed in 2010 for facility and technology upgrades.

To help Farm Lab expand, Michelove said numerous grants, donations and sponsorships are on the table. This prompted the board to ask that a future agenda item be brought back on sponsorship policies at district facilities.

Farm Lab launched last spring, following five years of planning and permitting delays.

The 10-acre site was gifted to the district as part of a development deal, and enrollment projections showed there wouldn’t be enough students to justify another school, according to the district. So, the district board in 2010 approved a farm concept to reinforce science lessons learned in the classroom.

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