Life Lab

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

Life Lab Main Office and Garden Classroom: 1156 High St, Santa Cruz, CA 95064
Life Lab Watsonville Office 349 Main St, Suite 208, Watsonville 95076

Media inquiries should be directed to Nicole at or 831-566-8106.

Administration & Support

Don Burgett
Co-Executive Director

Don joined Life Lab in 2011 as associate director, working on finance, development, planning, and staff and board support. He served as co-director with Gail Harlamoff beginning in January 2012 and assumed the role of executive director in July 2012, when Gail left the staff and joined the board of directors. Since 2019 Don has been thrilled to partner with Judit Camacho to co-lead Life Lab’s team together with greater capacity, complementary perspectives and life experiences, and a shared vision for expanding Life Lab’s positive impacts in the world. Previously, Don served as development director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation, the leading national organic farming grantmaking and advocacy organization in the U.S. Prior to a decade with OFRF, Don worked for three seasons as an apprentice and then staff of the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture at the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems, where Life Lab is located. In the 1990s, Don was a leader in urban agriculture and community food security programs, working in low-income communities across Los Angeles, co-founding the LA Community Garden Council and the LA School Greening Partnership, and co-chairing the Urban Agriculture Committee of the national Community Food Security Coalition. Don earned a BA in Geography/Ecosystems from UCLA, is a certified Master Gardener and Ecological Horticulturist, and completed the Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders at Stanford University. Read more about Don.

Judit Camacho
Co-Executive Director

I am thrilled to be part of Life Lab’s extraordinary team and 43-year mission.

My experience with nonprofits extends over 20 years. I served two terms as the Executive Director for SACNAS- Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americas in Science whose mission is to diversify science nationwide. In between these times, I was invited to work at the National Institutes of Health to develop research programs for underrepresented communities. And most recently, I supported nonprofits in Mexico, Colombia and the US with strategic planning and fund development.

I hold an undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of California Santa Cruz, graduate coursework in Public Health from Johns Hopkins and a master degree in Ontological Coaching from the Universidad San Sebastian in Santiago, Chile.


I look forward to deepening Life Lab’s roots in Santa Cruz County while cultivating a stronger network across the country. It will be a pleasure to meet each of you to expand the limits of education through the wonder of the garden classroom.

Amber Turpin
Sr. Administrative Associate

Amber Turpin was fortunate enough to grow up in a garden. Since then, she has dedicated most of her efforts towards the good food movement, promoting access to ethical, delicious, and pure food for all. From freelance food writing, working as Office Manager for Slow Food Nation, starting an artisan cookie company, or pulling weeds on her small farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Amber lends a diverse passion for all things food to her work at Life Lab. Read more about Amber

Amy Schwerdtfeger
Sr. Program Associate

Amy (She/her) was born and raised in Livermore California and enjoys living in Santa Cruz with her husband Jeff and three year old daughter, Sierra. Amy is a middle school teacher by trade, but has enjoyed her time with the Life Lab crew since 2018, specifically helping to equip our instructors with the tools they need, and coordinating logistics for our annual School Garden Support Organization Institute. In her spare time you can find Amy running, surfing, reading, or taking Sierra on an adventure (before or after the sacred nap!)

Miriam Watson
Special Projects Leader


Miriam Watson joined Life Lab in 2022 as a Special Projects Leader. Her current special projects include hiring talented new Life Lab’ers and developing internal infrastructure to support Life Lab’s growth. Miriam spent the first twenty years of her career in the Silicon Valley working for companies such as Synaptics, Silicon Graphics and NASA Ames Research Center. At Synaptics, Miriam built the Human Resources function, served on the executive leadership team, contributed toward the launch of the initial public offering (IPO) and supported business acquisitions in the UK, Taiwan and Hong Kong. While at Silicon Graphics, Miriam held several roles including in training and organization development where she was involved in designing senior management professional development and in a special project supporting Vice President Al Gore’s National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIIAC). Miriam has served on several non-profit performing arts boards including San José Dance Theatre and Theatre in the Mountains. She is currently a board member of the Loma Prieta Community Foundation and serves on the leadership team for Pacific Collegiate School’s Parent Volunteer Association. She received her BA in Industrial Psychology from University of the Pacific and holds an MBA from Santa Clara University. Miriam lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with her husband, two daughters and many 2-legged, feathered and four-legged furry friends. Miriam is most at home in nature, especially in redwood forests with meandering trails.

Nicole Albuquerque
Development Coordinator

Field Trips, Summer Programs, & Internships

Cara-Alexandra Wild-Sundell
Garden Programs Manager

Cara brings over 15 years of education experience to her position, specializing in environmental education and professional development for beginning educators.  As the Garden Programs Manager at Life Lab, Cara directs field trips, summer programs, and internships for college students learning how to teach. She is passionate about creating inclusive, accessible programs for all students and about inspiring the next generation of garden education leaders!  Growing up in Chicago, she jumped on opportunities to volunteer and work at learning institutions, such as at the Field Museum of Chicago.  She graduated  from UCSC with a B.A in Environmental Studies and a minor in Anthropology.  At Developmental Learning Solutions she tutored and taught high school level science to home-school students with learning disabilities.  She worked at Watsonville Wetlands Watch as a wetland educator for elementary and middle school students and as an After-school Program Coordinator for a high school mentorship program.  At Web of Life Field (WOLF) School, a residential outdoor science school, she was an Educator Naturalist and Program Director at several sites around California.  Cara is trained in Positive Discipline strategies for the classroom, as well as cooking with kids, program development, crop rotation, chicken husbandry, inquiry-based learning, SEL, and how to write a land acknowledgement.  She has also worked as a professional Pastry Chef!  When she is not hard at work, she is hard at play, hiking, dancing, climbing, cooking, and traveling with her husband and wife.

Daniela Etchegaray

Grace Greenfield
Garden Educator

As a Garden Educator, Grace (she/they) directs field trips, summer programs, and internships for college students learning how to teach and garden! 

Grace grew up in Santa Cruz and is so appreciative of the community connections that are rooted in both this location and garden education as a whole.  


Grace graduated from Lewis & Clark College in Portland OR with a B.A. in Sociology/ Anthropology with an emphasis in education. Grace has worked in the outdoor education field for almost a decade for numerous organizations. Grace has been loosely affiliated with Life Lab since 2015 but was hired on full time in 2019. Grace is looking forward to learning with and from all the students this year!

Adult Education & Movement Building

John Fisher
Director of Programs & Partnerships

John came to Life Lab in 2000 with years of experience as an environmental educator in places such as Hidden Villa and in Honduras as a Peace Corps Volunteer. After a couple of years working at UCSC CASFS as Outreach Coordinator, creating a summer camp program, and expanding fieldtrips John came to Life Lab. With Life Lab he built and maintained the Garden Classroom and developed programming for children and UCSC interns. Currently John is focused on sharing the innovative work of Life Lab through communications, educator professional development, and networking across the state and nation. John attended UC San Diego and has a BA in Biological Anthropology. At home John tends a small flock of hens, a mini orchard, and a cut flower/vegetable garden with his wife and son. Read more about John.

Whitney Cohen
Education Director & Teacher Training

Whitney Cohen (she/her) is a teacher, trainer, and author with tremendous commitment to, and expertise in, place-based education; student-led inquiry; strategies for engaging a diverse student population; school gardens; and the intersection between environmental education, Common Core and Next Generation academic content standards, and the public school system. As the Education Director at Life Lab, Whitney leads educator workshops nationwide and has written and contributed to various activity guides, including The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids, The Growing Classroom, and The Soil Story Curriculum. Whitney is also a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz where she teaches a course on environmental education.  Whitney received her MA in Education from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2002 and her BA in Sustainable Community Development from Vassar College in 1999. Prior to working with Life Lab, Whitney taught Earth, Life, and Physical Science and Introductory Spanish for five years in a low income, public middle school. At this school, Whitney worked with the local community to create a school garden and a watershed adoption project. In addition to classroom teaching, Whitney has worked in environmental education and public health in California, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. Read more about Whitney.

Regi Jones
National Training & Curriculum Specialist

My name is Regi Jones and I grew up and attended university in North Carolina. My passion for education began while working with groups of Burmese youth in the summer. That launched me into moving to New Orleans to dive into my curiosity about the connection between food and education. Primarily focusing on how food can be used to connect people across cultures and how what we eat is shaped by our own ancestral connections.  When I’m not thinking about how to draw young people into those conversations I love any outdoor activity, trying new foods and watching That’s so Raven.

Kelsey Cerdas
Education Program Associate

Kelsey is excited to join Life Lab as Education Program Associate. Kelsey and is responsible for managing the logistics that support Life Lab’s curriculum for educators. Kelsey is from Santa Cruz, CA. She attended UC Santa Barbara and prior to Life Lab, worked as a professional artist for over 10 years. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with family, surfing, traveling, hiking, and gardening. 

Partner Schools Programs

Aisling Mitchell
PVUSD Program Leader

Aislíng leads our team of Life Lab Educators to bring the Partner Schools Program to life at seven elementary schools in Pajaro Valley Unified School District! Our K-2nd graders are engaged in hands-on NextGen Science in their very own life laboratories on campus; sparking the curiosity of tomorrow’s scientists! Exploring mystery boxes and celery experiments to unearth prior knowledge to form a bridge to our new discoveries and cultivating a love of nature, one critter at a time! Our 3rd-5th graders participate in our Kids Cook Program where each student learns to prepare healthy snacks for their classroom communities and beyond; creating adventurous eaters, one bite at a time! Aisling has been involved with Life Lab in various capacities since 2012, but officially joined the team in September 2016. Aislíng went to school at the University of California, Santa Cruz for a degree in Biology. Upon graduating, she served two full terms with @FoodCorps with OUSD and PVUSD before transitioning to building our partner schools program. When she is not sporting a vegetable costume, Aislíng is enjoying the Santa Cruz lifestyle hiking, gardening, climbing, and experimenting in the kitchen!

Alexandro Ochoa
PVUSD Garden Instructor

Hola! I was born and raised in Palmdale, CA located in the beautiful Mojave desert where growing up I was never taught about indigenous perspectives, climate change, or social equity. Moving away from home and finishing college opened my eyes to what is really important to me; climate and social justice now fuel my passions. As a first-generation Mexican American, I strive to be the change for future generations in our communities and am beyond happy to serve as a role model and leader for the children I serve in the Watsonville community.

Baylie Gray
PVUSD Garden Instructor

Baylie (she/her) is. a Life Lab Garden Instructor at Mintie White Elementary School in PVUSD. Baylie is from Northern California and majored in Liberal Studies at Chico State. She worked in classrooms and as a preschool teacher before igniting a passion for garden education in two years of service with FoodCorps. Baylie loves days full of learning and growing in the garden and is also a huge lover of cooking, mornings, coffee, art, and walks in pretty places. 

Becca McKnight
PVUSD Food & Nutrition Instructor

Becca originally moved to California to study holistic nutrition, and has since fallen in love with its biodiversity and incredible scenery.  She became a garden educator with FoodCorps in 2017 and has remained in the education/food sovereignty realm ever since.  With experience at both PVUSD and Oakland Unified, Becca is now working within the Food & Nutrition Services department to procure local foods for the community of Watsonville’s school meal program, bring salad bars back to schools, and feature fresh, healthy, and seasonal produce as often as possible.  She’s thrilled to work with Life Lab and PVUSD to work toward a more just food system while supporting the next generation of lifelong healthy-eaters.

Cassidy Kelly
PVUSD Garden Instructor


Cassidy has recently joined Life Lab after working at an outdoor education program for the past 4 years in the Santa Cruz area. After receiving her BA in Psychology and Education, Cassidy’s experience ranges from working with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and in other alternative environmental education environments. She has found a love for integrating environmental curriculum with hands-on learning, and is inspired by nature’s role in educating youth. While studying for her masters’ in Environmental Conservation Ed, Cassidy hopes to integrate her knowledge and ideas of conservation with the elementary school students at H.A. Hyde Elementary. She believes that there is such an importance in connecting youth to their natural environment, for both their development and educational potential. When she is not working, Cassidy enjoys trail running, backpacking, surfing, and cooking up veggies! 

Cynthia Oliva
PVUSD Garden Instructor

Eliseo Martinez Jr.
PVUSD School Gardener

Emiko Stewart
PVUSD Garden Instructor

Hello my name is Emiko Stewart.

I was born and raised in Watsonville and went through the PVUSD district. I am excited to be back in Watsonville and to be a part of the Life Lab garden teaching team. For the past 12 years I have been living and teaching abroad in Asia. I have lived in South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. From my experience teaching and living abroad, I have learned to be patient and resilient to changes. I bring both of these aspects to the garden classroom. I am a garden teacher because I enjoy spending my days with the future of Watsonville. Children are the young seedlings of our future and I aim to encourage positive tools for  effective communication and team work in our future. 



In my free time, I enjoy being active in our Watsonville community by volunteering and attending community events. Also, I try to spend as much time as possible with my rescue dog I brought to California with me from Hong Kong.  His name is Carter and he’s a German Shepherd Akia mix. His favorite activity is walking along the Pajaro Dunes.

Gabi Bravo
PVUSD Garden Instructor

Gabriela Bravo is a happy Life Lab garden instructor. She is passionate about art, music and nature. Her goal is to continue to facilitate garden time for our young scholars and provide a fun and beautiful garden space kids can learn and explore. Gabriela has been working in education for 5 years and really values the importance of working in a bilingual classroom. Having been born and raised in a small town in Veracruz Mexico allowed her to experience a childhood full of fruit trees, thunderstorms, bugs, and homemade herbal remedies. Gabriela feels fortunate to feel at home when she is in the garden.

Geoff Palla
Partner Schools Program Manager for LOSD

Geoff brings to Life Lab a wealth of experience in farming and construction and worked for over a decade at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley. His experience as the Operations Manager & Senior Garden Teacher was instrumental in his role with Life Lab in supporting the systems and infrastructures that help facilitate student engagement throughout the garden classrooms in Santa Cruz county. It is through teamwork, experience, and innovation that Geoff approaches his work in this field.

When not at work Geoff enjoys going in the ocean and camping with the family and the beloved family dog, Piper. 



Jose Chavez
Blooming Classroom Gardener

Kayden Bryant
PVUSD Instructor & Program & Community Liaison

Kayden (they/he) is a passionate community advocate, farmer, and educator. As the Instructor & Program and Community Liaison at LifeLab, Kayden works with the community to build a strong culture of culinary and garden based education. They coordinate special events, programs, and volunteers for students and the community to caretake the land, connect with their food, and explore biodiversity. Kayden was previously a Garden and Culinary Instructor and continues to love leading students through hands on learning. They love to collect rocks, grow plants, listen to new music, and share baked goods! Kayden received a B.A. in Sociology from UCSC and was a Farm Apprentice at the UCSC Center for Agroecology.

Leah Heasly
PVUSD Garden Instructor


Leah comes to Life Lab as a School Garden Educator with over 10 years of experience working with children of all ages in a diversity of settings. Originally from the eastside of Seattle, WA, she grew up playing in the rain with her two younger sisters. After a Spanish degree from Lewis and Clark College in 2012, a M.A. in Education from University of Colorado in 2018, and time abroad in New Zealand, she feels very blessed to be putting down roots in Santa Cruz. Both within and outside of work, she plans around play! She loves to backpack, kayak, bird watch, and is an amateur vineyard manager, helping out with her partner’s winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Liz Starkey
PVUSD Garden Instructor


Hello! My name is Liz Starkey (she/they) and I am excited to be joining Life Lab as a garden instructor. For the past three years I have been teaching 2nd grade in Watsonville. As a teacher I am passionate about giving kids opportunities to explore and connect with nature.  In my free time I enjoy riding my bike, being outside, and cooking. I am an active member of a community garden in my neighborhood. I look forward to learning more about garden based science education with Life Lab!

Lupita Flores
PVUSD Garden Instructor

I was born and raised in the East Bay and have lived in Santa Cruz county the past 6 years.

I love reading in the sunshine, exploring new hiking spots, and spending time with my family.


I am grateful to be joining the LifeLab community. I am excited to integrate and expand my knowledge in garden education. I strive to allow the space and time for students to naturally blossom where they can see themselves mirrored and feel supported in their natural environment.

Maceo Hastings Porro
PVUSD Garden Instructor

I grew up in Santa Cruz and love spending time outside, cooking, and eating food! I’m passionate about garden-based education because of its power to engage all of the senses and build off of children’s natural curiosity and excitement. I studied environmental science in college, with a focus on sustainable food and agriculture. In my free time, I like to play guitar, sing, climb, and jump into cold bodies of water (the ocean, lakes, and rivers). I am so excited to join this wonderful team!

Noemi Romo
PVUSD Garden Instructor


Noemi comes to us from the San Fernando Valley, where she volunteered with her community as a guerilla gardener. These growing gardens became spaces for communal healing through gardening, music, poetry, art, and food. She began her work with LifeLab through the Semillas to Sunflowers Summer Program, where she got to play in the mud and pop some popcorn with the children of Pajaro Valley. She is excited to continue gardening with the little ones. Watsonville reminds her so much of home – not only are there many paleterías to choose from, her dad used to play fútbol here!

Randy Miller
PVUSD School Gardner

Sasha Retford Gonzalez
PVUSD Garden Sites Leader

Sasha has dedicated her livelihood working towards the vision of vibrant, thriving communities deeply connected with the natural world. She has a strong background in environmental education, cross-cultural studies and holds a certificate in Permaculture Design as well as a B.A. in Environmental Anthropology. Some of her favorite activities include playing in natural spaces, bike riding, dancing, singing and cooking in the kitchen with her husband and their young son.

Garden Classroom

Jennifer Eckert Bernau
Garden Classroom Manager


Jennifer (she/her) is the Garden Manager of our Garden Classroom, a demonstration children’s garden that hosts field trips, workshops, volunteers, events and sweet interactions with visitors from all over. With an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education, a Bachelor’s in Botany, a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology at UCSC, as well as a passion for self reflecting and growing opportunities, she has so much to share, and so much to learn. Jennifer has been an ally and advocate for children and families for over 30 years and has been presenting workshops on gardening with children and other early childhood topics for over 10 years. You will most often find her in the garden, tending to plants, people, bees and chickens, spending time with her family and friends, or she may be camping, dancing, swimming, roller skating, walking, cooking, reading, listening to music, growing as a foster family and nurturing relationships in the Child & Family Services community, enjoying meals with loved ones and always in awe of the magic of seeds . Jennifer is a lover of all things growing and green and is always working towards a reimagining of the golden rule ~ May people be treated the way they need and want to be treated. 

Alan Mendez Garden
Classroom Facilities Assistant

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