One Woman’s Passion to Get Us Digging



Kaitlin Mitchell’s gardening curriculum and newly launched line of eco-friendly tools are connecting kids of all ages to the Earth.

When Kaitlin Mitchell’s oldest son entered kindergarten in San Diego, the school had a volunteer proposal for her: Help rebuild the abandoned school garden and teach a few nature lessons along the way. As a former teacher who loves to garden, Kaitlin couldn’t say no, but she also didn’t want the garden to ever return to weeds again. “I needed to create something that would exist beyond me and my children being there,” says Kaitlin.

From those early days in the school garden nine years ago, Kaitlin could see the children were eager to learn, and she was passionate about connecting them to nature — while following school curriculum guidelines. Understanding how our food grows creates a connection to our Earth and in doing so to ourselves, to our community, and even to those who grow and harvest our food. 

Little did she know volunteering to start a school gardening program would grow into a business venture with a curriculum for elementary school students and new ergonomically designed, environmentally friendly garden tools.

Growing a Gardening Curriculum

In addition to teaching how to grow food and building connections with the Earth, Kaitlin wanted to intertwine STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) lessons, art, and even relaxation techniques that would address social-emotional learning.

Kaitlin Mitchell with books.

Rutabaga Education launched with a curriculum divided into fall, winter, and spring seasons with lessons designed for preschool through elementary-aged students, but it can be and has been used for all ages and abilities. She designed it so anyone could teach it, including volunteers, parents, and grandparents, making it incredibly sustainable for schools to implement. The entire curriculum costs $350, and can be sold separately for less, which supports her goal of making it accessible for school and home budgets. 

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“My goal in creating Rutabaga Education is to provide accessible resources that allow more children and families to get outdoors and grow.”

– Kaitlin Mitchell

Kaitlin has now shipped her gardening curriculum to over forty states. She is the first to admit she hasn’t done a great job in tracking how many schools or children the curriculum has reached, and as of now her marketing consists of word of mouth and Instagram, but it doesn’t seem to matter to Kailtin. The curriculum wasn't about making money but her “way of putting something positive out in the world.” 

Kaitlin says, “My goal in creating Rutabaga Education is to provide accessible resources that allow more children and families to get outdoors and grow.”

Cultivating Eco-Friendly Garden Tools

As of Nov. 1, Kaitlin is excited to address a problem she’s seen season after season in her school’s garden (she still volunteers from time to time): the need for reliable, cost-effective, and sustainable tools that could work for all ages. Rutabaga Garden Tools is her solution. With ergonomic handles, the tools include a hand rake, trowel, weed remover, and scooper that are environmentally friendly. 

When Kaitlin started this journey, she had no idea about product design and production. She did the bulk of her creating in a Point Loma coffee shop near her home. Sitting there for this interview, she passionately shares how she now looks at everything with a new perspective. “How did this clock get built or this stool?” she exclaims with a laugh. She worked with artists, environmental activists, engineers, and the list goes on, to create a new type of product that gives back to the planet. 

Rutabaga Garden Tools are made with 100% Legacy Plastics (recycled plastic recovered from our oceans and shorelines), and the packaging is recyclable. She didn’t stop there. Kaitlin has thought of every detail and is even using reusable garden twine to secure the tools in their packaging. After launching the tools for sale on her website, she expects to sell them in home and garden stores in San Diego and beyond. Committed to giving back, Rutabaga Garden Tools is a member of the 1% for the Planet, donating a portion of sales back to the Ocean Legacy Foundation to support ocean clean-ups. 

And it all started in a school garden. 

For more information, visit Rutabaga Education’s website or Instagram and the Rutabaga Garden Tools website or Instagram.

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Laura McLean
Laura McLean
Laura McLean is a native San Diegan who is the plant expert co-owner of Sweet Seedlings, and has spent over 20 years working for a nonprofit and as a marriage and family therapist. She has transformed her yard into an urban vegetable and pollinator garden, and strives to connect mental health, self-care, and a commitment to our earth with every seed she sows.
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