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Agreement to bolster hub for agriculture education

ENCINITAS — A variety of new agriculture, sustainability and education programs are blooming along Quail Gardens Drive. And a new agreement aims to nurture their growth.

Groups in the area, including the Leichtag Foundation, EUSD (Encinitas Union School District) and the San Diego Botanic Garden, recently formed an organization called the E3 Cluster.

E3 recently signed an agreement spelling out that representatives will meet on a regular basis to collaborate on education projects, share resources and address common concerns, according to Jim Farley, president and CEO of the Leichtag Foundation.

“The stars have aligned in a lot of ways,” said Farley. “Groups in proximity to each other — with similar missions — have ambitious plans.”

Indeed. Last year, the Leichtag Foundation began revamping the 67-acre property between Quail Gardens Drive And Saxony Road, where the Eckes once grew poinsettias. Since then, Leichtag has launched a variety of agricultural initiatives, and a network of nonprofits dedicated to issues like food security have moved on the property.

Next to Leichtag, the Botanic Garden is looking to build a pavilion, complete with classrooms, a kitchen and an amphitheater. Another neighbor, the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, is adding exhibits, like a depiction of downtown in the 1940s. The goal: offer a wider picture of the area’s history.

And across the street, EUSD’s 10-acre farm — containing a community garden and satellite campus — should debut in the next several months.

“We have shared interests that can be better served by this agreement,” Farley said. “We aren’t aware of another hub like this.”

An initial collaboration between E3 members: the San Diego Botanic Garden using roughly 11,000 square feet of Leichtag greenhouse space, rent free. That way, the Botanic Garden can research and cultivate tropical orchids and palm trees for the new pavilion.

As another example of cooperation, EUSD and the San Diego Botanic Garden are looking to form an educational partnership. One early idea involves students cooking produce from the farm at the Botanic Garden’s planned pavilion.

“This partnership paves the way for more of these kinds of agreements,” Farley said.

During E3 meetings, which will likely be held on a quarterly basis, representatives will try and find solutions to problems on Quail Gardens Drive and Saxony Drive. Farley cited initial concerns like traffic and the area’s speed limit.

“I think we’re all in agreement that the speed limit is just too high on Quail Gardens,” Farley said. “We would meet to first understand the issue and then see what could be done.”

Julian Duval, president and CEO of the San Diego Botanic Garden, credited Leichtag with “providing a spark” for the agreement.

In 2012, Leichtag purchased the Ecke Ranch site, once the epicenter of poinsettia production in the country. However, with increased competition from globalization, the Ecke Ranch company moved growing operations offshore starting about a decade ago.

In 2012, Leichtag bought the site.

Even before striking the E3 agreement, Duval noted those on Quail Gardens have worked together.

Leichtag, for instance, has proposed gifting around 11 of its adjacent acres to the 37-acre Botanic Garden. For that to happen, the Botanic Garden will have to relocate its parking lot, along with meeting other conditions.

“The cluster should crystalize more partnerships,” Duval said.

Other E3 members: Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA and Seacrest Village, a retirement community off of Saxony Lane.

Duval said that between the farm, YMCA, Heritage Museum and Botanic Garden collectively stepping up their offerings, more families will flock to the area. It’s a chance to continue Encinitas’ agricultural legacy, he added.

“Preserving Encinitas’ heritage is a major, major goal” among E3 members, Duval said.

EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird said the district is looking to first develop curriculm with the Heritage Museum and Botanic Garden. More partnerships are likely down the line, he added.

“Our kids can access the opportunities on their sites, and we would figure out ways to help those organizations as well,” Baird said. “Right now, E3 is in its infant stages, but I think it’s going to do amazing things for the community.”

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