Life Lab

Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

In our responses to the editor of The Atlantic we ask that they publish The Garden,  A Master Teacher written by a Life Lab Camp parent Kristen Berhan.

Kristen writes:
One of the complex questions I have been living is the question of education. This is a question that has grown within me from my own education in the public school system and now ripens as I have the stewardship of nurturing my own four daughters. For their sakes, I have waded through the war-zone of educational philosophies with the cross-fire so thick that I could not clearly see who was wrong or who was right. At last I came upon a place of peace, where Dewey, Montessori, Steiner, Mason, Rousseau and Froebel all seem to call a truce. I have found a place where public schoolers, home-schoolers, and private-schoolers can amicably co-exist. This higher-ground is in the garden. Read more…


Life Lab Staff Letters to the Editor of The Atlantic
Assistant Director John Fisher wrote:

Long before Alice Waters gummed her first bite of solid food educational experts had been hailing the value of the garden as an instructional tool. 

I will share their observations first: 

Where schools are equipped with gardens … opportunities exist for reproducing situations of life, and for acquiring and applying information and ideas in carrying forward of progressive experiences. …..they [gardens] are a means for making a study of the facts of growth, the chemistry of soil, the role of light, air, moisture, injurious and helpful animal life, etc. …Instead of a subject belonging to a peculiar study called ‘botany,’ it will then belong to life, and will find, moreover, its natural correlation with the facts of soil, animal life, and human relations… John Dewey, 1944, Educational reformer whose ideas have been very influential to education and social reform.

When he [student] knows that the life of the plants that have been sown depends upon his care in watering them … without which the little plant dries up, … the child becomes vigilant, as one who is beginning to feel a mission in life.Maria Montessori, 1912, her educational method is in use today in a number of public as well as private schools throughout the world.

The pupil will get the clearest insight into the character of things, of nature and surroundings, if he sees and studies them in their natural connection … the objects that are in closest and most constant connection with him, that owe their being to him … these are the things of his nearest surroundings … the garden, the farm, the meadow, the field, the forest, the plain … Instruction should proceed from the nearest and known to the less near and less known.Froebel, 1826, helped lay the foundation for modern education based on the recognition that children have unique needs and capabilities. He developed the concept of the “kindergarten”, and also coined the word now used in German and English.

The garden furnishes abundance of subject matter for use in the composition, spelling, reading, arithmetic, geography, and history classes. A real bug found eating on the child’s cabbage plant in his little garden will be taken up with a vengeance in his composition class. He would much prefer to spell the real, living radish in the garden than the lifeless radish in the book. He would much prefer to figure on the profit of the onions sold from his garden than those sold by some John Jones of Philadelphia.George Washington Carver, an American scientist, botanist, educator and inventor whose studies and teaching revolutionized agriculture in the United States.

And now for my own words.

As a garden educator I have seen most of the documented experiences that school gardens provide. Kids begging their parents to serve them beets, an increase in student directed learning, and a better understanding of the basic elements that sustain us all (sun, soil, water, and air everything we eat and wear) are all common in a school garden. One experience I had stands out among all the others.

I asked my group of third graders visiting the garden to go around and state their name and favorite fruit or veggie. We got to one child who said nothing and after a short pause the other students were quick to offer “Marco hasn’t said a word at school yet… He’s from Guatamala, he’s only been here a month”. This also explained the special aid that accompanied him.

In the garden while the students were encountering the garden’s lessons, more numerous than all the pages in their text books, Marco hadn’t gone far. He was standing above a patch of strawberries, head hung low towards the dew covered leaves. I knelt down to his level, picked a berry and offered it to him with one word “fresa”. A grin came across his face as he reached for the berry and replied in a tentative voice “fresa”. Then together we said the word “strawberry”. I looked up and saw his aid behind him with tears in her eyes.

The author of Cultivating Failure, is well educated. I invite her to come for a lesson in Santa Cruz, CA and visit the some of the longest running school gardens in the country. I invite her to speak with the teachers, administrators, parents, and students who value gardens as instructional tools. I invite her to taste a soil born – sun sweetened – Alice Waters preaching – life changing – school garden grown strawberry.

I ask The Atlantic to publish The Garden, A Master Teacher as an alternate view to what was documented in “Cultivating Failure”. 
– John Fisher, Assistant Director Life Lab Science Program

Education Director Whitney Cohen wrote:
Caitlin Flannigan’s “Cultivating Failure: How School Gardens are Cheating Our Most Vulnerable Students,” demonstrates a frighteningly limited understanding of both education in general, and the role of school gardens therein. A powerful school garden program is not, at its core, simply designed to grow new foodies. Rather, the best school gardens are used as an instructional tool, much like a science laboratory or a computer lab, in which academic learning comes alive.

I taught for 5 years in a middle school where 69% of students were English language learners, and 74% were low income. When given a standard prompt from their textbooks, getting a paragraph out of many of my students was like pulling teeth. Upon returning to school, however, to reflect on a 3-day overnight field trip to a lighthouse and tide pool sanctuary, I could not get these same students to stop writing when the bell rang. They were writing because they had something to say. As a writer and former teacher herself, I would expect Flannigan to understand this fundamental concept in education: You cannot teach English and math effectively in a vacuum, devoid of meaningful content. School gardens, much like field trips to state parks or discovery museums, provide a meaningful context in which learning is brought to life. I taught a significant portion of my science classes in a school garden and other local habitats, engaging students in hands-on, project-based learning. My students’ scores on California’s standardized science tests far exceeded the overall state average and were more than double the state average for schools with similar demographics.

Like Flannigan, I am skeptical of educational reforms based on the whims or personal interests of influential celebrities and administrators, especially when the futures of our most vulnerable students are at stake. And yet, Flannigan is faulty in her assumption that school gardens are new and un-researched “fads.” School garden programs have been a part of American education at least since World War One. In fact, in the early 1990s, prior to any high profile celebrity endorsements, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the creation and national dissemination of Life Lab Science, a garden-based science curriculum. As this curriculum took hold, it became clear that the impacts on English language learners went beyond science learning and, in 1997-1998, a NSF-funded study measured statistically significant growth in students’ standardized test scores in English language proficiency, reading, and math in classrooms that utilized a garden as a context for learning English. Today the benefits of garden-enhanced learning are continuing to be researched and, in 2007, the Journal of the American Dietetics Association (JADA) documented the positive impact of school gardens on students’ attitudes toward and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Flannigan asks her readers: “What evidence do we have that participation in one of these programs—so enthusiastically supported, so uncritically championed—improves a child’s chances of doing well on the state tests that will determine his or her future?” I would ask Flannigan first to take into account all of the evidence that she omitted from her article, as it is not my impression that either the NSF nor JADA takes research-based evidence lightly when highlighting new “fads.” I would then ask her to consider a more fundamental question: Are there not factors beyond standardized test scores that might also impact these children’s futures? Would a high test score, for example, remedy a case of Type 2 diabetes or a planet that is no longer suitable for human habitation?

School gardens certainly do not provide a comprehensive means of closing the achievement gap for all students in all schools. Research and personal experience, however, have convinced me that, in conjunction with other traditional and innovative educational practices, gardens provide one of many effective means of contextualizing academic learning, improving students’ nutritional habits, and helping them to understand the connection between human survival and the natural resources – soil, earthworms, water, etc. – upon which we depend: an understanding that may, in the years to come, prove to be more important than any other in determining these students’ futures.
– Whitney Cohen, Education Director Life Lab Science Program

View Caitlan Flanagan’s  Cultivating Failure: How School Gardens are Cheating Our Most Vulnerable Students published in The Atlantic.


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2 days ago

Life Lab

The Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation is proudly celebrating five years of supporting nonprofits that teach students and communities about the goodness of fresh ingredients. This year, the Foundation awarded more than 110 Neighborhood Grants to nonprofit organizations, with Life Lab being one of them!

We are grateful for the continued support from Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation. Life Lab is honored to have been chosen as a recipient of the Neighborhood Grants. Our partnership reflects Sprouts Farmers Market’s core values of education, environmental stewardship, and nutrition.

With this support we have been able to launch and sustain, a robust directory of easy to use activities that require no screen time, promote healthy eating and inspires creativity. This site is perfect for teachers and parents alike! has garnished over 7k users from all over the world, in almost every continent, since our launch in April.

Sprouts Farmers Market

#sproutsfarmersmarket #MyLifelab #local #nonprofit See MoreSee Less

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7 days ago

Life Lab

🌱 Join the SGSO Leadership Institute 🌱

Every year, we host a School Garden Support Organization Leadership Institute to provide an opportunity for school garden professionals from across the country to collaborate, learn from one another, and develop resources to share with a national audience. Collectively, SGSO Institute participants have improved their own work while also sharing ideas and resources to help others do the same.

In the face of the myriad challenges of 2020, all of you in SGSOs across the country are innovating in creative and inspiring ways to sustain and enhance garden education for their students. We are eager for other SGSOs to learn from you! With generous support from Whole Kids Foundation , we are pleased to be able to provide stipends for peoples’ contributions to these Working Groups.

This year’s SGSO Institute is open to newcomers and SGSO Institute Alumni!

🚨 Applications are due November 6, 2020 🚨

To learn more about this exciting opportunity and apply, visit: See MoreSee Less

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1 week ago

Life Lab

Life Lab celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day with special recognition of the land on which our gardens grow and by sharing beautiful family friendly resources highlighting indigenous storytelling and efforts of Native peoples to reclaim food sovereignty, cultural identity, and native land stewardship.

The Life Lab Land Acknowledgement, now shared at all formal gatherings in our Garden Classroom on the UCSC campus:

“The land on which we gather is the unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe. The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, comprised of the descendants of indigenous people taken to missions Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista during Spanish colonization of the Central Coast, is today working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices on these lands and heal from historical trauma.”

*Land acknowledgement developed in partnership with the
Amah Mutsun Tribal Band Chairman and the Amah Mutsun
Relearning Program at the UCSC Arboretum.

Learn more about the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and the

Life Lab is honored to support the film, GATHER (Gather) with a
FREE virtual screening on October 30th at 7pm

📷 credit: Amah Mutsun Land Trust website See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

Looking for some #garden #joy? Join us for a sweet sharing of Life Lab Reimagined: program updates, inspired learning, and community at our Fall Benefit this Saturday at 10:30am 🌱Register at 🌱Learn about our New Curriculum, New Life Lab Educator Certification Program, New Staff, and New Garden Additions👀Plus all the beautiful work we’re doing to support school garden education locally and nationally🌻Participants are automatically eligible to win a raffle prize courtesy of @synergyclothing ❤️ #schoolgarden #education #kisstheground #teachtheyouth #landstewardship #fundraiser See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

It’s Harvest Festival Week🌻happening virtually October 5-10th. A collaboration between the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems UCSC CASFS Farm Life Lab​, and students of UCSC Food Systems Working Group
Mark your calendar! The week-long series is full of fun virtual activities for all ages, with live streamed musical performances, a lecture on agroecology from a panel of experts, and ending the week with Life Lab’s #Funtastic Fall Benefit highlighting new program updates and staff/garden additions. Register at

Visit for a complete schedule of events and registration instructions.

Monday, October 5
7:00 PM – 7:45 PM
Life Lab Backyard Chickens Q&A

Tuesday, October 6
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Saving Seeds, Sustaining Our Communities

Wednesday, October 7
1:30 PM – 2:45 PM
The evolution of agroecology as a practice, a research discipline, and a social movement

7:00 PM – 7:45 PM
Nurture Yourselves With Nature!

Thursday, October 8
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Cider Donut Workshop and The Everything Apple Panel

6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Celebrating Queers and Nature

7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Giant Green Anemone! Going Deep Into Local Tide Pool Explorations

Friday, October 9
12:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Planting Seeds For Success: Community Connections to Water Your Garden for Wellness!

2:30 PM – 4:00 PM
What is the Food Systems Working Group and what does it do?

5:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Rachel Carson Garden Cooking + Poetry Workshop/Mic!

Saturday, October 10
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Life Lab Fall Benefit Gathering
#schoolgardens #gardeneducation #lifelab #harvest #gratitude See MoreSee Less

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4 weeks ago

Life Lab

Happy weekend everyone ☀️Enjoy this sweet share of the UCSC Farm featuring Life Lab 🌱and our chickens! 🐓We look forward to sharing more with all of you as part of our upcoming Fall Benefit on October 10th. Register at See MoreSee Less

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4 weeks ago

Life Lab

In celebration of the Fall Equinox 🍁we are excited to share a poignant new film called Kiss the Ground Movie🌱Life Lab is honored to have partnered with Kiss the Ground to develop middle school curriculum and accompanying training video for educators, focused on the process of capturing and storing carbon in living organisms such as soil, plants and algae.🌿

This hopeful film showcases part of the solution to climate change that is right under our feet: biosequestration in the soil. Life Lab invites you to join a Global Watch Party for the film, followed by a live Q and A at 6pm PST / 9pm EST. For more info, go to Kiss the Ground Movie 🌍 #Lifelab #regenerativeagriculture #schoolgardens #soilhealth #earthactivist #climatechangesolutions See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

It’s World Gratitude Day! 💐Life Lab is grateful for our community and to continue our 40+ year mission of cultivating children’s love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden based education🌱#life lab #schoolgardens #education #worldgratitudeday #gratitude See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

Join us on October 10th at 10:30am for Life Lab’s Fall Benefit: A Celebration of Learning and Community.
Register at
This virtual event includes a tour of Life Lab’s evolving work and vision. Plus we have a surprise announcement! We are thankful for your encouragement and support as a member of our Life Lab community. Despite the challenges of this unprecedented year, Life Lab is moving forward with grace and creative innovation. The events of this season have provided opportunities to support our local community and national networks in new ways, expand our reach through virtual connections, and dive more deeply into justice and equity in all of our work. We are strengthening the roots that feed Life Lab programs as we continue to transform the Nature of Education. Continued cultivation of children’s love for learning and connections with healthy food and nature during COVID is essential and brings hope, wonder, and a much needed breath of fresh air. We are excited to share the inspiring work of our dedicated staff with you! #gratitude #schoolgardens #education #lifelab #fundraiser #gardens
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1 month ago

Life Lab

🚨Join us TODAY at 11am PST🚨

💚Bringing Social Emotional Learning and
Mindfulness Education to Your Work💚

Join Sheri S. Dollin, M.Ed., Educational Consultant and Mindfulness Facilitator, and Sunny Wight, Co-Founder of Mindfulness First, for an overview of mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the distance learning setting.

Together, we will look at how an understanding of trauma, mindfulness and SEL can help us to manage stress while nurturing the scientifically proven “protective factors” that help prevent and manage trauma and mental health issues both for ourselves and our students.

We will specifically learn about the brain science of stress, and practice mindfulness techniques you can teach to your students. We’ll also take a look at Mindfulness First’s synchronous and asynchronous online work, and quickly understand that it’s easier than we think to integrate mindfulness and SEL into online classrooms. Bring: something to draw with and a piece of paper, for Mindful Art.

For more information and to register click the link below See MoreSee Less

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Stock up your Garden Classroom

Life Lab 40th
Life Lab’s 40th Gala – Sunday, October 13th  Celebrate 40 years of bringing learning to life in gardens. Learn more  
Life Lab's 40th Gala
Life Lab provides truly inspiring training. Their breadth of experience, joy for teaching, and commitment to sharing knowledge highlight the best practices in food and garden education.
Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps
Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.
Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary
Terry had another awesome two weeks at Life Lab. I think he learns more there than in any other part of his year. School is great, but he’s passionate (and often dogmatic) about what he learns there.
Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom
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