Explore Ecology

Year: 2019

Explore Ecology – Playa de Santa Barbara Award for Environmental Stewardship


Since 1990, Explore Ecology has educated over a half a million students in Santa Barbara County, inspiring them to engage with the natural world, think critically, and experience the value of environmental education.

Explore Ecology programs empower the next generation of environmental stewards on field trips, in classrooms, and in school gardens throughout Santa Barbara County. Their programs include the Watershed Resource Center, School Gardens, Coastal Cleanup Day, Summer Camps, and Art From Scrap. Explore Ecology’s environmental educators engage with 38,000 children a year. For all this and more, Explore Ecology was named the 2019 recipient of the Playa de Santa Barbara Award for Environmental Stewardship.

Offering extensive opportunities for people and students of all ages, Explore Ecology in-class lessons and field trips are available for public and private schools, community youth groups, and camp programs. Free to most Santa Barbara County schools, Explore Ecology educators teach watershed education, gardening, food waste, composting, and waste reduction for 86 schools annually.

Explore Ecology’s School Gardens Program grows healthy minds, bodies, and little green thumbs in 38 school gardens. Using the garden as an outdoor classroom, Garden Educators teach children how to grow organic produce, compost, save seeds, and prepare their school-grown food. Children who learn to garden tend to eat more fruits and veggies, have a greater understanding of ecology, and receive higher test scores in science. Explore Ecology’s innovative Farm to Toast Program, in partnership with the Santa Barbara Unified School District Food Services (SBUSD), teaches students how to grow, harvest, and mill their own wheat. Students participate in an in-depth yearlong study of wheat production in California and put their newfound agricultural knowledge into action by planting demonstration wheat gardens, processing wheat into flour using new hand mills, and baking bread in two new portable wood-burning ovens. Fresh bread, created with student- grown flour and other California-grown wheat, will be served in school cafeterias. Students at each of the other SBUSD elementary schools will receive lessons on bread making and enjoy fresh bread.

Art From Scrap on the corner of Garden and Cota is open to the public and offers the community a Creative ReUse Store, low-cost art workshops for kids and adults, and an art gallery. Art From Scrap has diverted thousands of pounds of clean, reusable items from the landfill since its beginning in 1990. Art From Scrap’s School Materials Program offers discounted materials to teachers and administrators.

The Watershed Resource Center at Arroyo Burro Beach is a community education center where visitors learn about watershed ecology and the importance of protecting watersheds, creeks, and the ocean. Open for field trips during the day and for community group meetings at night, the Watershed Resource Center is an educational hub. Monthly Beach Cleanups are held at Arroyo Burro Beach on the second Sunday of every month at 10 am.

Explore Ecology coordinates Coastal Cleanup Day for the County. With 27 cleanup sites from Guadalupe to Carpinteria and over a thousand volunteers, Coastal Cleanup Day is a day to give back to the ocean, beaches, and creeks that make Santa Barbara County such a wonderful place to live.

The Explore Ecology Annual Environmental Stewardship Awards honor teachers, individual students, and classes or clubs who have spearheaded positive change, are committed to helping the environment, and are inspirations within our community. Award winners are honored each year at the Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival.

The Santa Barbara Edible Education Symposium (SBEES) on October 11th and 12th is a new program coordinated by Explore Ecology. SBEES showcases and celebrates the work of educators, farmers, school food service providers, and youth leaders across the Central Coast. In this dynamic two day conference, participants will learn from one another, exchange ideas and best practices, and strengthen partnerships and networks.