Nonprofit’s double-decker bus puts eco-education on the road

The Ecology Center has taken its “green”-centric experiences on the road.

For 10 years, the San Juan Capistrano-based nonprofit has offered south Orange County-area adults and children hands-on education in sustainability. In the spring, that eco-focused mission went mobile in the form of a 32-foot-long, 14-foot-tall double-decker bus called Road Trip.

“Our organizational vision is to live in a world with a culture that gives more than it takes,” said Evan Marks, founder and executive director of the Ecology Center. “This inspires us to design experiences and model creative solutions that reach communities of all ages — especially children, our future leaders.”

The 400-square-foot space is equipped with a prep kitchen and multiple stations designed for hands-on workshops, including lessons on organic composting, natural dyeing, making seed balls, pickling and canning and how to plant a newspaper pot. The prep kitchen has been used to cook farm-to-table meals for the community.

“We felt that with the bus we would be able to reach students and communities that may not be able to visit our home in San Juan Capistrano or our learning farm in Encinitas,” said the Ecology Center’s regional expansion director, Jonathan Zaidman. “Access to green spaces or fresh foods can be limited in certain areas, so we hoped to create a mobile toolkit that would provide lessons on how to grow food, save seeds, divert waste and make natural art, all from the bus.”

Faith Morris, principal of Marblehead Elementary School in San Clemente, said Road Trip and the Ecology Center are a natural fit for the environment-minded school, which is an Environmental Studies Academy.

Each class at the school maintains a section of a garden where children learn to grow edible and nonedible plants. As part of their environmental studies, students can make observations and predictions and test hypotheses, as well as research and write about ecological challenges facing the planet, Morris said.

Road Trip parked on the campus for a week in the spring.

“The students were able to demonstrate what they had already learned about gardening, sustainability and recycling and build upon that knowledge,” Morris said. “It was fun watching them participate because they were proud to share what they already knew. Students are often frustrated by the challenges every gardener faces [including gophers], but this solidified the importance of organic, earth-friendly strategies.”

The Road Trip bus has made appearances for private and public events in Orange and San Diego counties, and the plan is for the mobile experiences to continue.

“We hope the Road Trip inspires communities to implement simple solutions that make major impact,” Zaidman said. “Our work highlights the benefits of these lifestyle choices — like a deeper connection to your food, where it comes from and who grew it.”

Marks said the Ecology Center wanted to highlight activities and solutions “that can be exported into a wide variety of different environments — homes, schools, offices, backyards, etc. We found these to be very effective and engaging hands-on activities that show people how to create their own solutions to these issues.

“We want to show that engaging with our ecosystem is very accessible and also extremely rewarding.”

Jessica Peralta is a contributor to Times Community News.