Meet the Gardening Educator: Kaitlin Mitchell
This San Diegan is leading kids and teachers down a growing path
Pregnant with her first child and dealing with a family member’s illness, Kaitlin Mitchell started thinking about what she was feeding her family and where that food came from. Her curiosity eventually turned her into an edible-gardening evangelist, and when she was recruited to help run the gardening program at her son’s kindergarten, a new path opened. It became apparent to her that while schools had garden beds and grant money, they had no idea what to do with them, so combining her background as a teacher with a passion for planting, Kaitlin created Rutabaga Education.
Blogging about topics such as pest control, fertilizers and composting, she has also created an integrated series of books designed as a garden-based science, nature and nutrition curriculum for grades K-4. The books, which can also be used by home-schooling parents or teachers without access to gardens, include mindfulness and movement activities (Kaitlin is also a certified yoga instructor), as well as recipes for healthy snacks. When she’s not developing teaching materials, Kaitlin works with her husband Eric and their children Charlie and Teddy in their Point Loma home’s landscape, tending edible beds and building a backyard greenhouse.
You might as well ask her which is her favorite child.
She enthuses about her giant sunflowers, ‘Indigo Rose’ tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, cucumber, artichokes, potatoes and pumpkins, as well as herbs like thyme, rosemary and basil. Just whatever she’s currently growing.
Grow What You Love: 12 Food Plant Families to Change Your Life by gardening blogger Emily Murphy (passthepistil.com). It’s a practical and creative how-to book on garden-to-table growing.
Do you actually like rutabagas?
“I think they’re delicious,” she says, although her brood has not quite come on board. “I tried to fool my family and pass them off as roasted potatoes. I think I scarred them for life.” She admits she also just really likes the sound of the word.
Do you have a hero or heroine?
With her focus on gardening and healthy eating during her tenure as First Lady, it’s no surprise Kaitlin is wild about Michelle Obama. “I’m slightly obsessed,” she says. “I really do adore her.”
Where do you go for inspiration?
“I’m such a garden geek,” says Kaitlin, who loves to wander the Walter Andersen Nursery in Loma Portal. “Their variety is amazing and it seems like everyone who works there has Ph.Ds in horticulture because they know everything. They’re super helpful and they’re really good with my boys.” As a former resident of the neighborhood, she also has a soft spot in her heart for the Little Italy Mercato Farmers Market.
Where do you go for a meal?
She spares no superlatives for Little Lion Cafe along Sunset Cliffs. “I love everything about that place,” Kaitlin says. “I even love that it’s so small and cramped. I don’t love waiting for a table but their food is super fresh and everyone in my family can get something they like.” And keeping it local she also gives nods to Point Loma’s Supannee House of Thai and Pomodoro Ristorante Italiano, as well as Coffee Hub & Cafe for a working breakfast.
How do you relax?
Yoga is how Kaitlin destresses, along with a well-timed walk along Sunset Cliffs. “My kids are high-energy boys, so Sunset Cliffs is a good place to clear my mind and actually hear my thoughts.”
What’s your guilty pleasure?
If watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette is a guilty pleasure, then so be it.
Favorite musical artist?
U2. “I’ve been to about 10 U2 concerts,” Kaitlin says, though she hasn’t grown a Joshua tree in her garden. Yet.
Kaitlin is a big fan of the gift and garden store en concordia (pictured at right) in Point Loma. “I love going there and just talking to the owner [Theresa Renfro] about anything plants. She’s just a wealth of knowledge. When I feel like I want to treat myself or reward myself for something, I go there. They have a lot of healthy lifestyle products, as well.”
What advice would you give to your younger self?
“Your life can take different tracks and everything is just going to help you in your next experience. There’s no such thing as a wasted experience; you can learn and build from it. And just be proud of sharing what you believe to be your gift to give…just believe in yourself and do it.”