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Little Shepherds Nature Lab’s Red Rover bus gets a kid-sized composting kitchen

Plus a pop-up puppet stage

Gina Tang at work on Red Rover.
Gina Tang at work on Red Rover.

The bus you see here being readied for a new paint job is Red Rover, or at least, it will be. That’s Gina Tang, Creative Director of Little Shepherds Nature Lab, applying some tape before she and her fellow helpers get started with the transformation. Though the bus will called Red Rover, it will actually be painted orange and yellow, with green vines, flowers, and pollinators. The exterior changes hint at what’s going to be going on inside: the bus is getting a kid-sized composting kitchen installed, plus a pop-up puppet stage. Soon it will be ready for its maiden voyage this summer, when Little Shepherds launches the Red Rover Summer Enrichment Program.

Little Shepherds is a private education association, or as Tang puts it, “a sanctuary for creativity, and a place to really explore the story of soil and plant and human health on this planet.” The website bills its approach as “ecological, experiential, and embodied.” The project’s previous incarnation started in Ramona a few years ago, with the goal of establishing a full-time program. They built four outdoor classrooms on a 24-acre ranch property — including one inside a very old pomegranate tree — using only “reclaimed materials and volunteers.” Despite a promising start, the arrangement was not to be, but it did produce a vision: we need a school bus. “So we got a school bus! A 26-foot bus with a million-mile diesel engine.” The bus should provide what she calls “a more impervious model” — less dependent on one location.

Sponsored
Sponsored
Getting there.

This summer, Little Shepherds’ Red Rover will bring its combination of play, dirt, and worms to four separate stops on its weekly route. On Mondays, it will catch up with the Good Shepherds, “a nomadic shepherding operation using goats and sheep for ecological fire abatement” — which is another project Tang had a hand in starting, some years ago. On Tuesdays, the bus will park at Normal Heights’ Duomo Gardens, “an example of what 10 years of backyard gardening in an urban regular residence can look like.” Wednesdays at Paradise Found in Chula Vista will see the group working on a small, nascent garden plot — seeing the beginnings of “urban ecosystem restoration.” On Thursdays at San Diego Urban Timber, also in Chula Vista, the children will meet chickens and have some more garden time, as well as creating the materials for the following day’s Pop-Up Showcase. Throughout, notes Tang, the children will not be “end users of a linear process,” not mere consumers. They’ll be learning, digging, planting, making, and sharing.

The Showcase that ends the week’s program is a chance for the Little Shepherds to teach what they’ve learned to parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends. Tang says that at that point, in passing along what they received during the week, the kids are “creating a loop that in real time is activating them as contributing members of society.” She says that she wants children to feel, “at the end of the day, connected to what they have achieved. Not like they just checked off a bunch of boxes, but like they, in their bodies, did something worthwhile.” If it works, she says, “then for the rest of their lives I think they will be more productive and successful in what is otherwise an utterly unpredictable world.”

A note on those parents and grandparents: the Red Rover program is unlike many summer options for children, in that families can get involved too. Further, the activities incorporate participants into local people’s homes and businesses. Tang says that “it used to be that community schools were a resource hub for families. And that’s a vision for Little Shepherds as well.”

Trust-falling into the good life

Gina Tang has spent a lot of time thinking about what makes a good life, and trying to effect changes accordingly. Much of her career has involved working on projects that she believes in, whether they are ecological, educational, or wellness-related. But she was bothered by what she felt was an excessive focus on the individual, as opposed to the individual’s environment and community.

When covid arrived, she realized, “Now’s my chance. I got rid of all my stuff, with the exception of my books, my art, and my journal collection, which I put in a storage unit. I took my kids and my car, drove to Northern California, and moved onto a small permaculture farm in the mountains with no wi-fi.” There, about 20 minutes outside Willitts, she stayed in a tent, using an outdoor kitchen and an outdoor bathroom. “I spent my days in the garden learning herbalism. There were goats there; there were chickens there. I integrated myself. I connected to life so directly that I was like, ‘I’m never going back in the box, never going back to the city thing.’”

Circumstances demanded her return to San Diego, so she set out to make the kind of life she wanted for herself and her family wherever she was. That’s when she launched Good Shepherds, a way to “draw my circle outside of the box, but next to it.” A way to bring some wildness and nomadic freedom into her current circumstances.

As a mother of three, Tang found herself needing to bring education into her vision and out of the conventional school system, where “we really can’t pretend that the dominant practices are really working”. Thus, Little Shepherds, to which she is radically committed. She sees it as part of her life and her dream, not as a job that can be isolated from those things — to the point where she plans to make her home wherever Little Shepherds ends up finally settling down after (hopefully) generating enough momentum over summer to grow into a full-time program. “It’s been an incredible journey. It’s been a total trust-fall.”

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Gina Tang at work on Red Rover.
Gina Tang at work on Red Rover.

The bus you see here being readied for a new paint job is Red Rover, or at least, it will be. That’s Gina Tang, Creative Director of Little Shepherds Nature Lab, applying some tape before she and her fellow helpers get started with the transformation. Though the bus will called Red Rover, it will actually be painted orange and yellow, with green vines, flowers, and pollinators. The exterior changes hint at what’s going to be going on inside: the bus is getting a kid-sized composting kitchen installed, plus a pop-up puppet stage. Soon it will be ready for its maiden voyage this summer, when Little Shepherds launches the Red Rover Summer Enrichment Program.

Little Shepherds is a private education association, or as Tang puts it, “a sanctuary for creativity, and a place to really explore the story of soil and plant and human health on this planet.” The website bills its approach as “ecological, experiential, and embodied.” The project’s previous incarnation started in Ramona a few years ago, with the goal of establishing a full-time program. They built four outdoor classrooms on a 24-acre ranch property — including one inside a very old pomegranate tree — using only “reclaimed materials and volunteers.” Despite a promising start, the arrangement was not to be, but it did produce a vision: we need a school bus. “So we got a school bus! A 26-foot bus with a million-mile diesel engine.” The bus should provide what she calls “a more impervious model” — less dependent on one location.

Sponsored
Sponsored
Getting there.

This summer, Little Shepherds’ Red Rover will bring its combination of play, dirt, and worms to four separate stops on its weekly route. On Mondays, it will catch up with the Good Shepherds, “a nomadic shepherding operation using goats and sheep for ecological fire abatement” — which is another project Tang had a hand in starting, some years ago. On Tuesdays, the bus will park at Normal Heights’ Duomo Gardens, “an example of what 10 years of backyard gardening in an urban regular residence can look like.” Wednesdays at Paradise Found in Chula Vista will see the group working on a small, nascent garden plot — seeing the beginnings of “urban ecosystem restoration.” On Thursdays at San Diego Urban Timber, also in Chula Vista, the children will meet chickens and have some more garden time, as well as creating the materials for the following day’s Pop-Up Showcase. Throughout, notes Tang, the children will not be “end users of a linear process,” not mere consumers. They’ll be learning, digging, planting, making, and sharing.

The Showcase that ends the week’s program is a chance for the Little Shepherds to teach what they’ve learned to parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends. Tang says that at that point, in passing along what they received during the week, the kids are “creating a loop that in real time is activating them as contributing members of society.” She says that she wants children to feel, “at the end of the day, connected to what they have achieved. Not like they just checked off a bunch of boxes, but like they, in their bodies, did something worthwhile.” If it works, she says, “then for the rest of their lives I think they will be more productive and successful in what is otherwise an utterly unpredictable world.”

A note on those parents and grandparents: the Red Rover program is unlike many summer options for children, in that families can get involved too. Further, the activities incorporate participants into local people’s homes and businesses. Tang says that “it used to be that community schools were a resource hub for families. And that’s a vision for Little Shepherds as well.”

Trust-falling into the good life

Gina Tang has spent a lot of time thinking about what makes a good life, and trying to effect changes accordingly. Much of her career has involved working on projects that she believes in, whether they are ecological, educational, or wellness-related. But she was bothered by what she felt was an excessive focus on the individual, as opposed to the individual’s environment and community.

When covid arrived, she realized, “Now’s my chance. I got rid of all my stuff, with the exception of my books, my art, and my journal collection, which I put in a storage unit. I took my kids and my car, drove to Northern California, and moved onto a small permaculture farm in the mountains with no wi-fi.” There, about 20 minutes outside Willitts, she stayed in a tent, using an outdoor kitchen and an outdoor bathroom. “I spent my days in the garden learning herbalism. There were goats there; there were chickens there. I integrated myself. I connected to life so directly that I was like, ‘I’m never going back in the box, never going back to the city thing.’”

Circumstances demanded her return to San Diego, so she set out to make the kind of life she wanted for herself and her family wherever she was. That’s when she launched Good Shepherds, a way to “draw my circle outside of the box, but next to it.” A way to bring some wildness and nomadic freedom into her current circumstances.

As a mother of three, Tang found herself needing to bring education into her vision and out of the conventional school system, where “we really can’t pretend that the dominant practices are really working”. Thus, Little Shepherds, to which she is radically committed. She sees it as part of her life and her dream, not as a job that can be isolated from those things — to the point where she plans to make her home wherever Little Shepherds ends up finally settling down after (hopefully) generating enough momentum over summer to grow into a full-time program. “It’s been an incredible journey. It’s been a total trust-fall.”

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