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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4 weeks ago

Life Lab

Building on Life Lab’s 40 years of experience in the school garden movement, we’ve updated and put together a series of 4 virtual courses that will guide and support educators in becoming a Life Lab-Certified School Garden Educator. 🌳At Life Lab, we believe the world needs informed, inspired, creative, and collaborative leaders, ready with the skills and the motivation they need to work for justice, sustainability, and healthy communities. And we believe that the garden is an ideal space for growing just such leaders! Now, more than ever, we need dedicated educators to lead children in cultivating a love of learning, healthy food and connection to our natural world through garden-based education. 🐝Your support makes this work possible 💚 – thank you for being a part of the Life Lab community and broader school garden movement! If you have already donated to Life Lab recently, thank you! If you haven’t yet given this year, please help us keep all of this vital work going and growing by donating now. Gifts of any size are deeply appreciated and have real impacts.www.lifelab.org/donate

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4 weeks ago

Life Lab

🌻 🔬 Next Generation Science in the Garden 🔬🌻 “I’m a Scientist!” exclaim students in the garden, empowered by Life Lab’s inquiry-led approach to science education. A garden is rich with teachable moments inviting observant students to experience foundational life and natural science concepts. As birds fly overhead, plants fruit or bloom or hibernate, decomposers make dirt; students learn science by observation and experience, having fun and gaining deeper academic knowledge. Life Lab’s Next Generation Science in the Garden (NGSG) curriculum is developed by teachers, piloted by garden educators and a wonderful tool for connecting academic curriculum to robust garden environments.Your support makes this work possible – thank you for being a part of the Life Lab community and broader school garden movement! NGSG Curriculum is available now! ow.ly/ATOW50HhQb4

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1 month ago

Life Lab

Thank you for supporting hands-on learning and well-being for all children and being part of the growing school garden movement! We appreciate your partnership and wish you and your loved ones a joyous holiday season.

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I’ve been a teacher educator for 15 years. I started with literacy methods, then migrated to science, but what I most love to teach is garden pedagogy. Thanks to @ucmastergardenersnapaco I was able to bring lessons I learned from @ucdstudentfarm Life Lab and @beetlesproject to Napa. From 2013-2017 the #SchoolGardenTaskForce hosted several workshops aimed at increasing the horticultural knowledge of garden educators. I found a community of like-minded folks to connect with in California. #communityconnection #gardenbasedlearning #learningfromthebest

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2 months ago

Readers To Eaters

#GoodReads in Spanish, incldng LAS CALABACITAS DE ZORA, translatd from Zora’s Zucchini.Also see ESPINACAS DE SYLVIA, translated from Sylvia’s Spinach, a 2020 selection.See full lists from 2019-2021: bit.ly/3rkZa5nBoth SYLVIA and ZORA, in English & Spanish, are available in #audiobooks from Live Oak Media. ..#SpanishChildrensBooks #DiverseBooks #FoodLiteracy REFORMA Reforma Los Angeles ChapterNational Association for Bilingual EducationCABE California Association for Bilingual EducationThe National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) California Association for the Education of Young ChildrenViva Farms Big Green Life Lab Common Threads Farm The Children’s Book Council ALSC – The Association for Library Service to ChildrenThe Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DCOur ’22 Best Spanish Language Picture book list comes out in January. For now, enjoy ’21 @CuentoDeLuz @charlesbridge @reforma @ALALibrary @Candlewick @kokila @BarefootBooks @ReadersToEatersbankstedu.info/3D3NBl3

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Our partners, Life Lab, are hiring to work with #PVUSD students. Check it out!Nuestros socios, Life Lab, están contratando para trabajar con estudiantes de #PVUSD. ¡Échale un vistazo!lifelab.org/about/internships/jobs/Life Lab PVUSD Parents

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2 months ago

Readers To Eaters

Happy National Homemade Bread Day! November is also National Bread Month. Share Bread Lab on the science and joy of whole wheat sourdough breadmaking. bit.ly/2VQjVo7"This engaging picture book about the science and joy of making bread is named for Washington State University’s influential BreadLab and co-written by its managing director, Kim Binczewski, and agricultural scientist Bethany Econopouly. Illustrated lovingly by Hayelin Choi, this book should inspire folks of all ages to explore the world of sourdough baking."Eater SeattleSee video with Kim introducing the book and her work at the WSU Breadlab. bit.ly/3r9RIqz..#NationalHomemadeBreadDay #HomemadeBread #Bread #WholeGrain #WholeWheat #Sourdough #SourdoughStarter #Fermenation #FoodLiteracy #FoodEducation #ScienceEducation #FoodScience #PlantScience #SoilScience #Farming #CulinaryEducation #KidsCooking #FarmToSchool #AgClassroom #AgLiteracy #AITC The Bread Bakers Guild of AmericaNational Agriculture in the Classroom American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture Whole Kids Foundation Pilot Light FoodCorps Life Lab Big Green Washington Ag in the Classroom California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (CFAITC) California Farm to School Edible Schoolyard NYC The Edible Schoolyard Project Center for Ecoliteracy

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3 months ago

Kirby School

Another wonderful Community Involvement day is in the books!Some of the activities students participated in to serve our community today:* Learned and practiced land stewardship (improve biodiversity, revegetation, weed removal)* Food preparation and distribution* Resource conservation* Home construction for low income families* Care and clean up of our community’s shared spacesThank you to these amazing local organizations and groups for their continued work to better our world through the lens of environmental advocacy and social justice: Coastal Watershed CouncilSave Our ShoresHomeless Garden ProjectEvergreen CemeterySan Lorenzo Valley Native Habitat Restoration ProgramGrey BearsLife LabSecond Harvest Food Bank Santa CruzHabitat for Humanity Monterey BayReStore Santa Cruz Home Improvement Store & Donation Centerwww.facebook.com/groups/SantaCruzFoodNotBombsSanta Cruz Museum of Natural HistoryCity of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation

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3 months ago

Readers To Eaters

Happy National STEM Day! #GoodFoodReads for #stemeducation: The Thing About Bees: A Love LetterFarmer Will Allen and the Growing TableBread LabBook info @ bit.ly/xoWr0H Find CurriculumMatrix for these titles @ National Agriculture in the Classroom bit.ly/3H0J9H4 ..#NationalSTEMDay #STEM #STEAM #stemeducation #scienceeducation #gardeneducation #environmentaleducation #MakerEducation #farmtoschool #agclassroom #agliteracy #AITC #FoodLiteracy #naeycAC The Alliance for a Healthier GenerationNational Science Teaching AssociationWSTA-Washington Science Teachers AssociationCalifornia Farm to School National Farm to School Network FoodCorps Big Green Life Lab Edible Schoolyard NYC The Edible Schoolyard Project Green Bronx Machine

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Stock up your Garden Classroom

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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