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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3 days ago

Life Lab

🌱 Become a Life Lab Certified Educator!🌱

We only have 3 spots left in our new School Garden Educator Certification Program! Sign-up today for the entire series of courses or for individual courses by visiting website, link below. Our first course, Building Connections in the Garden, starts with asynchronous work on January 21st and our first synchronous session will be on January 28th from 3:30 – 5:00 PST. You may continue to sign up through January 27th or until all spots are filled. If needed, we highly encourage you to join the waitlist to get priority registration for our next cohort in the fall of 2021 or should there become spots available.

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 8 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/ See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

Looking to 2021 with a magnified view of our impact on nature and our connections with each other. A healthy garden is a diverse and sustainable ecosystem full of wonder and beauty in all seasons. #LifeLab #2021 #gardeneducation #science #BetterTogether See MoreSee Less

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4 weeks ago

Life Lab

At the beginning of the year, Life Lab launched our Healthy Futures campaign in response to the financial impact of COVID on our programs. We are grateful for our continued partnerships and our resilient staff who had to reimagine our work and how to best serve our local and national communities. The innovative outcome of this process includes new resources such as Next Generation Science in the Garden Curriculum, Life Lab Educator Garden Certification Program, Life Lab Webinar Series, Back Pocket Learning, and more!

2021 is full of potential and positivity, however……

🌱 WE STILL NEED YOUR HELP! 🌱

Our 2020 annual operating budget is $1,300,000 and we’re almost there!!! We are only $12,223 away meeting that goal! Click here ow.ly/FP0950CSIlg to help us reach our before the end of the year. Remember, every little bit goes a long way! 💚

For more information about our Healthy Futures campaign please visit here ow.ly/jwKh50CSIlf. See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

The Life Lab Garden Educators just finished building and installing brand new veggie boxes at one of our partner schools, in Watsonville!!! Can’t wait to see these flourish! 🌱🥕🐝🌻#gardensofgratitude See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

The Life Lab Garden Educators just finished building and installing brand new veggie boxes at one of our partner schools, in Watsonville!!! Can’t wait to see these flourish! 🌱🥕🐝🌻#gardensofgratitude See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

🌱 Become a Life Lab Certified Educator! 🌱

Life Lab is excited to announce our new School Garden Educator Certification Program!

We’ve put together a series of 4 on-line courses that will guide and support educators in becoming a Life Lab-Certified School Garden Educator. 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 8 weeks long and include 4 synchronous meetings, at-home work, and a unique coaching model. It is also possible to sign-up for individual courses separately to learn specific content or brush up on one topic that meets the needs of your program.

Registration for the full certification series opens today, December 7th. Click the link below

ow.ly/ifka50CFczl See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

Join us today at 1pm with nutritionist, @jocelyndubin MS, RD for a healthy conversation about nutrition especially during the holidays and the benefits of eating a rainbow. Register at LifeLab.org/events Link is also in our bio #foodismedicine #teachthekids #eatarainbow #LifeLab #schoolgardens See MoreSee Less

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2 months 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 LifeLab.org/ngsscurriculum See MoreSee Less

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2 months ago

Life Lab

Bee a pollinator for Life Lab and donate today! #givingtuesday 🐝 LifeLab.org/donate #supportschoolgardens #gardeneducation #natureisthebestteacher See MoreSee Less

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2 months 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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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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