Life Lab

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

Life Lab
1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA, 95064
phone: 831-400-2016
fax: 831-459-3483 due to Covid office closure we are not accessing our fax at the moment

Our office is located at our Garden Classroom Site

Media inquiries should be directed to John Fisher at or 831-471-7831 (mobile)

Don Burgett – Executive Director – 831-459-3833 –

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. 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 and a Master Gardener certificate from the UC Cooperative Extension Los Angeles Common Ground Garden Program. Read more about Don.

Judit Camacho – Co-Executive Director – 831-459-3833 –

I am thrilled to be part of Life Lab’s extraordinary team and 40-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.

John Fisher – Director of Programs and Partnerships – 831-471-7831 –

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 – 831-459-2001 –

Whitney Cohen 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.

Sara Severance- Educator Training Specialist – 831-459-5395 –

Sara comes to Life Lab after working as a public school science teacher, science instructional coach and science education researcher for the past 14 years. Sara brings expertise in implementing and facilitating NGSS-aligned lessons for diverse learners in the classroom and other informal spaces and strongly believes in making science accessible to everyone. Her passion for children and the outdoors started as a child attending summer camp on a lake in northern Michigan and led her to a teaching career in Denver, Colorado where she worked with a variety of students using educational programs such as Expeditionary Learning, Amplify Science, and the International Baccalaureate program. More recently, she led professional development for science and engineering teachers while also conducting formalized research in her classroom related to the implementation of NGSS-aligned curriculum and best practices in science education. Sara received her MA in curriculum and instruction in secondary science from the University of Colorado, Boulder and her BS in biology from the University of Michigan. Sara enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 children, reading, and playing ultimate frisbee and volleyball.


Nikki Patterson – Development Associate  – 831-459-3833 –

Nikki joined the Life Lab development team Fall of 2019 just in time to celebrate our 40th Anniversary Gala.   Nikki is from Washington state native. She received an Intl Studies degree from the University of South Florida.  Her past experiences working in education, the food and wine industry, and community advocacy bring insight and a deep network to Life Lab.  Nikki loves to travel, nature, gardening, food, bringing people together, and being a mother of 2.  


 Manny Romero – Communications & Impact Specialist –

Hello! I am the newest member of the Life Lab team. I graduated from CalPoly Pomona with a B.F.A in Visual Communications with a minor in marketing. I am excited to share the amazing work that Life Lab does in the greater Santa Cruz County and the national impact we have.



Amber Turpin – Senior Administrative Associate – 831-459-4074 –

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 – 831-400-2016 –

Amy was born and raised in Livermore California and enjoys living in Santa Cruz with her husband and 7 month 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 coordinate logistics for workshops/SGSO and interacting with all of the sweet campers, field trippers, and workshop attendees who come to the garden. In her spare time you can find Amy running, surfing, mountain biking, or most likely taking Sierra for a walk to show her the trees, bushes, and flowers!



Garden Staff

Jennifer Eckert Bernau – Garden Classroom Manager –

Jennifer is the Garden Manager and co-director of Garden Sprouts, as well as a presenter for the Sowing the Seeds of Wonder workshop at Life Lab. She has a Master Teacher permit and an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education, a Bachelor’s in Botany as well as a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UCSC. Jennifer has been an ally and advocate for children and families for over 25 years and has been presenting workshops on gardening with children and other early childhood topics for almost 10 years.  She is a lover of all things growing and green.

 Tania – Garden Classroom Assistant

My name is tania and I am an ecology and evolutionary bio major! I love being outdoors and taking care of the life lab chickens! I also love learning about self sustainable practices like growing my own food!


 Alena – Garden Classroom Assistant

Hello! I’m Alena, one of the gardeners at Life Lab. I’m also a third year student at UCSC studying agroecology! My favorite part of working at Life Lab is taking care of the chickens and working with so many different plants. At the garden there are many medicinal plants, edible plants and an abundance of beautiful plants that I love learning about. My favorite plant is lavender because I love the way they smell, plus they’re everywhere!


Erik – Garden Classroom Facilities Assistant

My name is Erik, I’m a third year Earth Science major. I grew up around a ranch setting in Nor Cal so I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and interacting with nature.



 Jose Chavez – Blooming Classroom Garden Manager




School Programs, Camp, & Internships

Amy Carlson – Garden Education Director – 831-459-4035 –

After a lucky childhood of camping and exploring creeks, I worked my way through college as a park naturalist, earning degrees in environmental education and music. After graduating, I discovered my love of farm- and garden-based education at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont, where I worked for two years tending a menagerie of farm animals and connecting visitors (mainly preschoolers) to their food source through activities such as milking a cow and harvesting in the garden. Since joining Life Lab in 2004, I’ve had the privilege of working with thousands of local children and many teachers, interns, and parents annually through my coordination and teaching of our field trip programs and summer camps; I’ve also expanded our programs to include Seeds of Wonder pre & K field trips and Garden Sprouts Summer Camp for 4-6 year olds, and co-created the Discovering the Garden in Early Childhood Education workshop and Seeds of Wonder curriculum. When I’m not at Life Lab, I’m getting dirty in the garden or the woods with my daughter. Read more about Amy.

Cara-Alexandra Sundell – Garden Program Manager – 831-459-4035 –

Cara began her current position at Life Lab in 2014, but has worked with Life Lab in a variety of roles since 2007.  She brings 8 years of education experience to her position, specializing in environmental education and professional development for beginning educators.  Growing up in Chicago, she jumped on opportunities to volunteer and work at learning institutions, such as the Evanston Ecology Center and the Field Museum of Chicago.  Cara moved to Santa Cruz in 2003 so that she could live in a community that appreciates healthy living, eating well, and the natural world.  While going to school at the University of California Santa Cruz, she found her calling to be an outdoor educator while interning at Life Lab in the field trip teaching program.  After graduating from UCSC with a B.A in Environmental Studies and a minor in Anthropology, she worked at Developmental Learning Solutions, where she tutored and taught high school level science to home-school students with learning disabilities.  She worked for over 2 years 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.  Then, after taking a 2 year break from environmental ed to work as a Pastry Chef, she worked for close to 3 years at Web of Life Field (WOLF) School, a residential outdoor science school, as an Educator Naturalist and Program Director.  When she is not hard at work, she is hard at play, hiking, dancing, climbing, cooking, and traveling with her husband.

Aisling Mitchell – Watsonville School Garden Programs Coordinator –

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!

Daniela Etchegaray – Bilingual Garden Educator-

Hi! I’m Daniela and I am excited to join the Life Lab team as a bilingual garden educator! After graduating in Psychology in Mexico City I worked on several environmental projects on my way to discovering garden-based education. It was in the garden I realized the potential for natural settings to inspire children to love and take care of the natural world and themselves. I have worked as a garden educator in different schools in Mexico and have managed garden education programs and the garden itself. I’m always excited to learn about and practice organic agriculture and permaculture with friends. I enjoy watching sunsets, gazing at the night sky and observing new bugs and plants while on a hike.


Grace Greenfield- Watsonville School Garden Educator-

Hi! My name is Grace Greenfield and I am the new Life Lab Garden Educator and Climate Corps fellow for this school year! I was born and raised in Santa Cruz and just graduated this past spring from Lewis & Clark College in Portland OR, where I studied Sociology/Anthropology. I worked with Life Lab teaching summer camps for the past four years! In my spare time I enjoy cooking and eating yummy food with my family, sewing clothes and art, as well as exploring all the wonders of this area. I am so excited to teach NGSS classes for TK/K, 1st, and 2nd in the Fall & Spring as well as Kids Cook for 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the Winter. Looking forward to learn with and from all the students this year!


Alexandro Ochoa – Watsonville School Garden Educator-

Hola everyone! I was born and raised in the beautiful mojave desert in Palmdale CA where growing up I was never taught about climate change or social equity, I was only taught to consume mindlessly. Moving away from home and receiving a BS in biology focusing on science education from Humboldt State University opened my eyes to what is really important to me; diversity, inclusion, 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 I can not wait to begin work as an educator with Life Lab. I’m sure this year will be as challenging as it is rewarding but either way it’s going to be a great year.

Chelsea Wright – Watsonville School Garden Educator-

I grew up in Danville, California (the East East bay), I was never big on the outdoors or healthy food until after college. I attended San Francisco State University and graduated with a BA in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Italian. When I studied abroad in Italy, that is where I fell in love with making food and connecting to the land around me. I’m excited to learn more about growing food and inspiring younger folks to get in touch with the land and food! (Something I sincerely wish I had at a younger age). I’ve spent the last six years working in outdoor education and I’m excited to try something different!

When I’m not working I enjoy going on walks and bike rides, making delicious meals, baking bread or other sweet treats, tending to my houseplants, doing yoga, listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks. If I’ve learned anything in quarantine, taking care of myself and doing things that bring me joy on a daily basis is it!

Liz Hernandez– Watsonville School Garden Educator-

I was born and raised in Watsonville, CA. My passion towards garden education came from my parents and local community. They have worked in the Pajaro Valley fields for 20+ years! I grew respect for both parents and community since the day I learned how difficult it is to bring food to our table. I personally have worked with them in the strawberry fields during my youth. These experiences have shaped the person I am today: resilient and hardworking. Therefore, I am so excited to be given this opportunity to be a garden educator for our local partner schools.  This is definitely going to be an ultimate journey given the circumstances but I very much look forward to this and grow together.


Kayden Bryant– Watsonville School Garden Educator-

I just graduated from UCSC with a BA in Sociology. Last year I had the amazing opportunity to intern at Life Lab on campus and it was pretty much life changing! I started focusing on alternative ways to teach and critically thinking about traditional schools and ways to better support kids’ growth. I’m super passionate about this work, but I’m also passionate about music, hiking, biking, gardening, reading, and anything crafty!  I’m looking forward to getting to know y’all more and being a part of this amazing team!


Lila Simpson– Watsonville School Garden Educator-

I am so excited to start working for Life Lab and figure out how to deliver fun and educational garden activities to the students. I hope to be able to safely meet the kids in person soon! I am from Berkeley, CA but went to school at UC Davis where I studied evolution, ecology and biodiversity. I am passionate about connecting kids with nature and making the pursuit of science available and encouraged for everyone. I love hiking, fruit picking, cooking, reading horror/mystery novels, drawing and screen printing t-shirts.


Maceo Hastings Porro– Watsonville School Garden Educator-

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!


Sierra Barsten – Watsonville School Garden Educator-

I graduated from LMU this year with a BA in Environmental Studies, and my passions lie in regenerative food systems, decolonization efforts, food sovereignty/justice, and alternative economic systems. I’m happy to be a part of the work Life Lab is doing to make environmental and nutritional education more accessible! I currently live in Capitola, and in my rare but cherished spare time I enjoy growing food, hiking/backpacking, reading, and cooking.  I’m so looking forward to meeting you all and working together to create new and exciting educational opportunities!


Miguel Garcia – Communications Assistant

Hello! My name is Miguel Garcia and I’m a senior at UCSC. I’m majoring in Film and Digital Media with a concentration in production. I work as Life Lab’s videographer, photographer, and video editor. I’m very excited to be working alongside them to help bring their curriculum into the digital space.


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14 hours ago

Life Lab

Life Lab is thrilled to announce the launch of 3 new Next Generation Science in the Garden curriculum units for grades K-2🐝 These units are aligned to #NGSS and written by Life Lab staff supported by experienced classroom teachers and piloted with over 8,000 students across 12 schools. For more info go to See MoreSee Less

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2 days ago

Life Lab

Bee a pollinator for Life Lab and donate today! #GivingTuesday 🐝 #supportschoolgardens #gardeneducation #natureisthebestteacher See MoreSee Less

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3 days ago

Life Lab

Food is medicine! Join us December 6th at 1pm for our next webinar focused on healthy eating choices during the holidays. Learn about nutrition and the benefits of eating a rainbow with @jocelyndubin free registration link in our bio #foodismedicine #organic #delicious #nutricious #gardeneducation #webinar #LifeLab See MoreSee Less

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3 days ago

Life Lab

Today at 4pm! Join us for our Gifts From The Garden live craft webinar. Life Lab staff will share #diy crafts that we also make in our youth led garden programs. Registrants will receive downloadable instructions. Link in our bio. #handmade #crafts #gardeneducation #LifeLab See MoreSee Less

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6 days ago

Life Lab

🌱Easy ways to support #LifeLab and #shoplocal Life Lab is honored to be a beneficiary of @newleafcmarket Bloom Wellness product sales #healthyliving Not in Santa Cruz? 😎You can still support Life Lab when shopping online with @amazonsmile just select us as your charitable beneficiary and .5% of your purchase sales will go to Life Lab💫 #AmazonSmile #givingback #supportschoolgardens #gardeneducation See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

Join us online for a fun family friendly “Gifts From The Garden” Webinar on November 30th at 4pm! Learn to create your own nature based holiday gifts. Life Lab staff will share tried and true crafts that we have made in our youth garden programs including rolled beeswax candles, pressed leaf & flower creations, and more! 🌸Register at See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

Fall 2020 updates. Stay tuned for NEW Life Lab developments coming soon! #sharingiscaring #change #reimagine #renew See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

🚨 Happening Today 🚨

We are grateful for the opportunity to invite you to a FREE Life Lab
screening of this important and beautiful film.

Today, October 30th at 7pm PST

Gather (Gather ), is an intimate portrait of the growing movement amongst Native Americans to reclaim their spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty and land rights, while battling the trauma of centuries of genocide. With regenerative agriculture and permaculture gaining national attention, it is more important than ever to recognize the tremendous innovations and contributions of Indigenous communities and practices. We are grateful Gather has become a key part of these discussions.

To view the screening this Friday, October 30th at 7pm, please make sure that you have RSVP’d via the Storyspaces screening platform link below. See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

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!💚

We want to honor the time and expertise you all bring to the table and, therefore, with generous support from Whole Kids Foundation we are so 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 Nov 6, 2020.
To learn more about this exciting opportunity and apply, visit: See MoreSee Less

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1 month 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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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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