Life Lab

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

Life Lab’s Executive Director Don Burgett on Wonders Outside the Windows

As the latest addition to Life Lab’s staff, I may not have had a chance to meet you yet. Hopefully that opportunity will come soon, but until then here’s a bit about me. I’m so happy to be here supporting the wonderful work that the Life Lab team does every day of every season in our garden and fields and far beyond.

Growing up, I can’t say I was a gardener. My mom certainly was, but somehow I just remember the weeding and that didn’t really hook me. My dad’s mother had beautiful roses, azaleas and camellias, and a Eureka lemon tree whose production now seems to defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I enjoyed making lemonade with my grandfather, and I remember climbing on the roof to get to the best oranges from a couple of 100-year-old Valencia trees that I later understood were reminders of a time when the whole neighborhood was an orchard.

I was a child of nature, though. I was fortunate to live near it in several places as my family moved every three to five years. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I learned what “sylvan” meant because all kids learned that the state name means (William) Penn’s Woods. And I certainly enjoyed those woods – beautiful, diverse deciduous forest close enough to hike into daily during junior high school. I saw them in all seasons, from the easy walks of spring to bushwhacking through wild green summer undergrowth, to crisp fall colors and slippery footing, then back to the deep quiet of a snow-covered landscape. I learned my first bird call there – the cardinal – accompanied by a red flash through the trees when I was lucky, and I spread peanut butter and seeds on pine cones to hang for the chickadees and titmice. I spent real time watching crayfish and water striders in the creek there, too, and learned to slow down and see life.

Back in California as a teen, tide pools and chaparral were my companions until ecology classes and activism at UCLA turned my mind to tropical rainforests, global ecosystems and environmental justice. The lessons of working together to effect change in daunting situations led me to work in community organizing and urban greening. It was then that gardens returned to my life in the wonderful form of community and school projects in Watts, Boyle Heights, Pico-Union, South Central, Koreatown and East LA. I helped residents and students plant trees in bare streets and schoolyards and vegetables in vacant lots and community centers. That work filled my heart.

To learn and offer more to support such efforts, I trained as a master gardener and studied under the real masters – the community garden elders, who grew everything from peanuts to collards to 14-foot Oaxacan corn. At the same time, I was learning nonprofit management and partnership in the organizations I worked for and with, ultimately helping to launch the Los Angeles Community Garden Council and facilitating dialogue among 28 agencies doing community greening work in the region. It was a heady time for the new field of community food security, too, as friends launched a national coalition to address inequities in access to healthy, fresh foods, especially in economically challenged communities. For a while I co-chaired the national urban agriculture committee of the coalition and learned much from long-time leaders in Hartford, Toronto, New York and elsewhere.

By then I had been supporting organic food and farming personally for years, but I didn’t always have good answers when community members brought out spray bottles of Malathion for problems in their garden plots. That lead me to the UCSC Farm in 1997 for intensive training in organic gardening at the Farm & Garden Apprenticeship. While I thought I would head back to LA after the six month program, life had other plans for me. I met my wife Arlene in the program, and we both stayed on for two additional seasons as Apprenticeship staff. By then, Santa Cruz was home, as I was fortunate to land a position with the Organic Farming Research Foundation here. Working with OFRF for over a decade connected me with the national organic research, policy, education, funding, and industry communities and was tremendously rewarding. The hardest part, though, was spending nearly all of my time in an office far from the impacts of our work.

Having my first two months at Life Lab during summer has been just the opposite. Every beautiful day, there have been campers and “Food, What?!” youth saying and doing things just outside the windows that make it clear what I am supporting. Whether I was solving problems with our insurance agents, reviewing cash flow with Gail and Lanee, facilitating staff meetings, or talking with potential donors, I could see the impacts of my work each time I stepped outside. Knowing that Life Lab is positively changing lives well beyond our garden and fields in regional, national and even international circles of life is incredibly heartening, too.

I’m looking forward to field trip season now, and the thousands of students and teachers who will come to experience this special place and the wonderful educational experiences that our staff provide. Most of the time, I will be typing away, reading or talking on the phone in the office, but I’ll only have to look, listen and step outside to see why what I’m doing is so important. Thank you for being part of it. And please come in and say hi anytime!

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1 week ago

Life Lab

Thank you all that joined us for our Spring Benefit💚 Our esteemed guest speakers Dr Dilafruz Williams and Paco Estrada shared moving testimony to the proven impacts of school garden education. We are thankful to have the opportunity to inspire children’s love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden based education. We are thankful for our local and national communities. We are thankful for each and every one of you! #supportschoolgardens #thewholechild #bettertogether #lifelab #interconnected #healthyfood #nature #loveoflearning #donate

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1 week ago

Readers To Eaters

Thrilled that The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter is the SC Ag in the Classroom May Book of the Month selection, just in time for Teacher Appreciation Week and United Nations World Bee Day. (WBD info: bit.ly/3cF6i2d) See book creator Shabazz Larkin read the book on PBSThirteen WNET New York‘s "Let’s Learn." bit.ly/32LQ0S0..#Bees #Pollinators #Pollination #SaveTheBees #GiveBeesAChance #BeeFear #BeeLove #AgClassroom #AgLiteracy #AITC #FarmToSchool #TeacherAppreciationWeek #WorldBeeDay #SchoolGarden #GardenEducation #EnvironmentalEducation #ClimateEducation #OutdoorEducation #EnvironmentalDiversity #DiverseBooksNational Agriculture in the Classroom American Farm Bureau Foundation for AgricultureNC Farm Bureau "Ag in the Classroom"California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (CFAITC) Washington Ag in the Classroom The Bee Cause Project South Carolina 4-H Youth Development Clemson Extension School & Community GardeningSouth Carolina 4-H Youth Development South Carolina State Library Charleston County Public LibraryLife Lab Big Green Pilot Light FoodCorpsHAPPY TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK! {Read through our post for giveaway info!}It’s already May, and you know what the new month brings – a NEW featured book of the month! Shabazz Larkins’ "The Thing About Bees" is a wonderful tribute to the bees that pollinate the foods we love to eat. Check out our lesson plan here: www.scfb.org/book-of-the-monthALSO – this is your last chance to sign up for our "All About Bees" workshop TOMORROW! us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZItc-qoqT4iGtF9ZoqqLnlWDGx4q2Cn-1CfAND LAST, but certainly not least, a giveaway for a deserving teacher! Every day this week we will post a giveaway for Teacher Appreciation Week. Today’s prize will be a free subscription for one year to our Ag Book of the Month program. Comment below with your school and grade level to enter today’s drawing!

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1 week ago

Readers To Eaters

Celebrating last day of National Poetry Month and National Garden Month with "I Am A Farmer" from A Moose Boosh: A Few Choice Words About Food by Shabazz Larkin. bit.ly/3cKEucz• "Readers and eaters are taken on a comical romp through the world of food using poetry and a visual feast of photographs enhanced with playful doodles."— American Library Association Notable Children’s Book• "Varied in style and tone —much like food itself—the witty, quirky poems take on many different topics . . . This is a charming and original book that should start some quality conversation about food."—School Library Journal..#NationalGardenMonth #NationalPoetryMonth #FoodPoetry #FoodPoem #IAmAFarmer #Farming #UrbanFarmer #YoungFarmer #FoodLiteracy #FoodEducation #FarmToSchool #AgClassroom #AgLiteracy #AITC #DiverseBooks National Agriculture in the ClassroomAmerican Farm Bureau Foundation for AgricultureNational Farm to School NetworkFoodCorps Pilot Light Common Threads Big Green Harlem Grown Green Bronx Machine DC Grown The Food Trust Detroit Hives Ron Finley Brown Bookshelf The Family Dinner Project Whole Kids Foundation The Bee Cause Project Life LabClemson Extension School & Community GardeningThe Edible Schoolyard Project Edible Schoolyard NYC Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy

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2 weeks ago

Nikki Patterson

Join me tomorrow for an inspiring celebration of the beautiful impacts and interconnections cultivated through school gardens. This one hour zoom fundraiser begins at 11🌱Please give as you can. #supportschoolgardens #schoolgardeneducation #LifeLab Life Lab 🌻 register at www.LifeLab.org/spring-benefit

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

🌸 Growing Gardens of Hope! 🌸We are so excited for Life Lab’s Spring Benefit Brunch this Saturday at 11am! We are delighted to share our guest speakers: Dilafruz Williams and Francisco “Paco” Estrada, who will speak on the interconnected relationships cultivated through school garden education and the healing, inspirational impact on students, families, and our broader community.Dr. Dilafruz Williams is Professor and co-founder of Leadership for Sustainability Education. Dilafruz’s recent research has focused extensively on garden-based education – its conceptualization and effectiveness in engagement of children and youth that enhances their holistic and academic learning. She directs the NSF-funded project: Science in the Learning Gardens. She has studied school gardens across 12 states in the USA and in many countries across continents. Dilafruz’s passion for gardens is evident in her own delight and engagement with soil and life in its multitude of manifestations of wonders and mystery. 🌱 Register today! 🌱lifelab.org/spring-benefit/

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

The Life Lab Spring Benefit Brunch Menu is available now! 🌻 Choose from selected items provided by our generous community partners @charlie_hong_kong @newleafcmarket @companionbakeshop @steamerlanesupply 🌱Limited inventory available! Purchase at LifeLab.org/spring-benefit/#menu

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

Life Lab celebrates Earth Day every day!🌎 🌱 #EarthDay #schoolgardens #gardensofhope

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3 weeks ago

Readers To Eaters

Happy Earth Day, National Environmental Education Week and National Garden Month!Good read for young environmentalists & gardeners: Zora’s Zucchini and the Spanish edition, LAS CALABACITAS DE ZORA. bit.ly/3eCjEOh"We’ll never make headway with the pressing environmental issues of our time—such as climate change, community-building and food waste—without brilliant, fun little books like Zora’s Zucchini."—EcoConsumer • See author Katherine Pryor read the book with conversation starter on food waste. bit.ly/3eRGH7m• Check out Pilot Light‘s new lesson plan for the book, with theme on "Sharing Food with Our Community" for Early Childhood and K – 2 English Language Arts. bit.ly/3gtKRG8• Hear LAS CALABACITAS DE ZORA, new in audiobook from Live Oak Media. bit.ly/32Hc9k5..#EarthDay #NationalEnvironmentalEducationWeek #NationalGardenMonth #ClimateActionMonth #EnvironmentalEducation #GardenEducation #KidsGardening #ClimateAction #FoodShare #FoodWaste #FoodLiteracy #FoodEducation #EarlyChildhood #LanguageArts #FarmToSchool #SchoolGarden #AgClassroom #AgLiteracy #AITC #WIC #SNAPEdJunior Master Gardener Program The American Horticultural Society Life Lab FoodCorps KidsGardening.org The Edible Schoolyard Project Whole Kids Foundation Chef Ann FoundationNational WIC Association California WIC Association

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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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