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!

View all staff

follow us on Facebook

1 week ago

Readers To Eaters

Great opportunity for young beekeepers! 🐝🐝 Check out Bee Grant from Whole Kids Foundation in partnership with The Bee Cause Project.Both WKF and BCP have been wonderful partners in promoting bee education and food literacy. See• WFK "World of Honey Bees," wonderful resource including Bee Activity Box featuring The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter. bit.ly/3h5SEb4• BCP Q&A with BEE author/illustrator Shabazz Larkin on #creativity #mindfulness & how we can take steps to care for the earth. bit.ly/3AoptJmGreat sharing for September #FoodLiteracyMonth and October National #FarmToSchoolMonth! ..#Bees #Pollinators #BeeEducation #BeeGarden #SaveTheBees #GiveBeesAChance #SchoolGarden #GardenEducation #OutdoorEducation #EnvironmentalEducation #ClimateEducation #FarmToSchool #AITC #AgClassroom #AgLiteracy #ScienceEducation #STEM #STEAM #FoodLiteracy #FoodEducation National Farm to School NetworkNational Agriculture in the ClassroomAmerican Farm Bureau Foundation for AgricultureJunior Master Gardener ProgramThe American Horticultural Society FoodCorps Common Threads Farm Center for Ecoliteracy Life LabThe Edible Schoolyard Project Edible Schoolyard NYCBzzt! Bee grant applications are now open! If you are interested in receiving an educational beehive or support for bee programming at your school or organization, apply for our bee grant in partnership with The Bee Cause Project. Learn more and register for our 9/15 webinar at: bit.ly/3DDfkL3

See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

4 weeks ago

Save Our Shores

Annual Coastal Cleanup is just around the corner and we are still looking for site captains for 7 of our region’s sites. This is a tremendous opportunity to join the region’s biggest annual volunteer effort to help protect our life-giving waters! For teens who are willing to partner with a parent or guardian, it’s also a fabulous way to practice leadership skills while earning community service credits!Ready to join us as a site captain? Sign up at docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfEoLUWDzybzQ_iUyKQhCetuywE8eKlnmZSi6neKIjdBHLSgQ/viewformWant to volunteer on Sept 18? Sign up at docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScdrSlrMTFOR7PBuGjwmSxx0DItsoctuloI5EI7eisRx8H6jw/viewformFriends of Santa Cruz State Parks Santa Cruz County Bank KindPeoples California State Parks Foundation California State Parks Kayak Connection Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center – Unofficial Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Foundation NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Monterey Bay Aquarium FishWise Seafood Watch Surfrider Foundation Santa Cruz Chapter The Bird School Project Life Lab Santa Cruz County Office of Education City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Lookout Santa Cruz County of Santa Cruz Aqua Safaris Scuba Center Live Like Coco Good Times Santa Cruz Santa Cruz Sentinel KAZU 90.3 Return of the Natives Restoration Education Project Santa Cruz State Junior Lifeguards

See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

4 weeks ago

Life Lab

🌱 We only have 2 spots left in our School Garden Educator Certification Program! 🌱 Sign-up today for the entire series of courses on our website. Our first course, Building Connections in the Garden, starts with asynchronous work on September 1st and our first synchronous session will be on Wednesday, September 8th from 3:30 – 5:00 PST. You may continue to sign up through August 31st or until all spots are filled. Upon completion of the 4 courses, participants will receive a certificate and the distinction of being a Life Lab-Certified Garden Educator. Each course will last approximately 4 weeks long and include 4 synchronous meetings, at-home work, and a unique coaching model tailored to each individual’s needs.lifelab.org/educator-certification-program/💚 We look forward to working with you!💚

See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

1 month ago

Nikki Patterson

Beautiful way to end this spontaneous day. Thank you Don💐 Thank you Life Lab Thank you UCSC CASFS Farm and Thank you Matthew Raiford#grateful #Interconnections #bressnnyam #blackfarmers #heritagefarm #yeschef #badass #organicgardening @bookshopsc ❤️

See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

1 month ago

Philip Lee

Good read during summer zucchini season! See Booklist review of LAS CALABACITAS DE ZORA, translated from Zora’s Zucchini: "By story’s end, Zora has learned the importance of growing, harvesting, and, above all, sharing food. [Anna] Raff’s appealing watercolor illustrations are soft and inviting, and an author’s note explains the ‘Donate, Preserve, Share’ concepts behind growing gardens. The translation’s well-chosen Spanish is simple to read aloud in a classroom or storytelling setting." bit.ly/3jWFZcGWe’re thrilled that LAS CALABACITAS DE ZORA audiobook is out this spring from Live Oak Media!Come hear author Katherine Pryor discuss ZORA and connecting food & literacy, on Big Green‘s webinar, along with Marie Dennan, BG’s Memphis program manager, and Micheál Newman-Brooks, program manager of school gardens with Chicago Public Schools. 8/18 @ 1PM ET / 10AM PT. Free register@ bit.ly/2XuQsV3Get zucchini recipes, food swap ideas@ bit.ly/3xx996Z..#SpanishChildrensBooks #Zucchini #SummerReading #SummerGardening #KidsGardening #SchoolGarden #BackToSchool #GardenEducation #FoodSwap #FoodWaste #FarmToSchool #AgClassroom #AgLiteracy #AITCThe Edible Schoolyard Project Edible Schoolyard NYCSlow Food USA School Garden Network Green Bronx Machine Life Lab Common Threads Farm Center for Ecoliteracy

See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

2 months ago

Philip Lee

See Our School Garden! author Rick Swann present on connecting school garden & literacy on 8/10, last of the Food Literacy Summer Author Series from Clemson Extension School & Community Gardening and South Carolina Farm to School Also presenting will be Tracy Miskelly at SC Ag in the Classroom. Register at bit.ly/3C2WjkyRick is a former Seattle school librarian. His work researching on creating a garden for his school led to his poems for OUR SCHOOL GARDEN! See discussion guides on OUR SCHOOL GARDEN from The Bee Cause Project Book Club. bit.ly/3rU2D7URead more about the Summer Author seriest: "Clemson Extension launches author series aimed at improving food literacy for SC youth." bit.ly/2Vlzc3A..#Poetry #FoodPoetry #FoundPoem #SchoolGarden #GardenEducation #SummerReading #SummerLearning #FarmToSchool #AgClassroomJunior Master Gardener ProgramSlow Food USA School Garden Network Common Threads Farm Life Lab FoodCorps

See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook


Magical seeds are being planted at Starlight Elementary in Watsonville that will blossom into a garden and teaching kitchen where students will learn, grow & thrive. Community Foundation staff was thrilled to visit the site last week, meet with partners, and learn more about the project (a recipient of a 2021 community grant. (Pictured from left to right: Judit Camacho, Jennifer Holm, Michelle Rodriguez, Hilary Bryant, Kevin Heuer, Jackie Medina, Don Burgett, Francisco Estrada, & Julie Edwards)with:Emeril Lagasse Foundation Life Lab Community Health Trust of Pajaro ValleyPajaro Valley Unified School District

See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

2 months ago

Readers To Eaters

Happy National Urban Beekeeping Day! See info on urban bees from Detroit Hives. Good day to share The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter. See author/illustrator Shabazz Larkin read the book for PBSThirteen WNET New York with wonderful message at the end on how to take care of bees, our environment, and ourselves! bit.ly/32LQ0S0..#nationalurbanbeekeepingday #urbanbees #beekeepers #beeeducation #savethebees #givebeesachance #pollinators #pollination #farmtoschool #agclassroom #agliteracy #AITC #summerlearning #summerreading National Agriculture in the ClassroomMichigan Agriculture in the Classroom New York Agriculture in the ClassroomWisconsin Ag in the Classroom ProgramEdible Schoolyard NYC The Edible Schoolyard Project Life Lab Big Green Common Threads Farm Slow Food USA School Garden Network

See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

3 months ago

Life Lab

¡Estamos emocionados de anunciar la versión en Español del curso GRATIS aclamado, Enseñando en el Aula de la Naturaleza! Conéctese con otros educadores y desarrolle nuevas estrategias y maneras de ver el aula al aire libre. Es una gran oportunidad tanto para educadores nuevos a la enseñanza al aire libre y educación basada en el jardín como para los más experimentados en esta práctica. Lea más y registrese aquí: wischoolgardens.org/EAN-curso/Wisconsin School Garden Network _________________________________We are excited to announce a Spanish language version of the acclaimed FREE course, Teaching in Nature’s Classroom! Connect with educators and develop new strategies and ways of seeing the outdoor classroom. A great opportunity for educators new to outdoor and garden-based learning, as well as educators who are experienced in the field. Learn more and register here wischoolgardens.org/EAN-curso/Wisconsin School Garden Network

See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

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
Translate »
Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial