Life Lab

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

Life Lab Director of Programs and PartnershipsJohn Fisher

I will start this story at UC San Diego where I came to the conclusion, like many college students, that I wanted to save the world. I graduated with a degree in Biological Anthropology and a copy of 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Earth in my back pocket. Right after graduating, I was persuaded by a roommate to teach at a summer camp in Colorado. In hindsight, it is funny that I got the job since I hadn’t really ever worked with kids. It was a good move, as it became apparent that I liked working with kids and they liked me. This was the beginning of my path to being an environmental educator.

You could say my road to Life Lab began in 1995, hitch-hiking in the back of a pick up truck as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras. A fellow environmental education volunteer and I were talking about what we wanted to do when we returned to the states. We talked about how great it would be to go back and start gardens in schools. Little did I know Life Lab had already been doing that starting 16 years prior to our conversation. Actually my first exposure to Life Lab was in Honduras. It came in the form of The Growing Classroom Activity Guide, which was distributed for free to volunteers teaching environmental education. I remember adapting the lesson “Off to the Races” and created a model to show my Honduran students what deforestation does to rivers and streams. Living in the coastal town of Trujillo, with the rainforest view from my kitchen window and the bay 300 yards outside my front door, was a great experience. Learning Spanish and how to punta dance; traveling and meeting international tourists; recording a radio program and running tree farms with high school students; and raising a little white dog named Tranquila are all great memories. One of my favorite accomplishments as a Peace Corps Volunteer was that my students would wait to litter until I had passed them on the street. Once I had passed, they would then throw their orange juice boxes on the ground. 😉

After Peace Corps and a bit of time teaching in elementary bilingual classes, I returned to teaching environmental education and landed at the wonderful Hidden Villa Farm and Wilderness Preserve. Having moved to Santa Cruz, I ended up attending the UCSC Farm Harvest Festival and talked to local Life Lab garden coordinators tabling at the festival. They were doing just what I envisioned doing while cruising in the warm Honduran air. I asked if they were hiring. Nope, not then.

After a couple of years at Hidden Villa, I ended up working for the UCSC Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Systems (CASFS) where I ran the farm docent program, helped with community events, revived the Wildlands and Watering Cans Day Camp, expanded the field trip and intern program, and started a dinky children’s garden in the future site of The Garden Classroom. A couple of years after that, Life Lab was funded to create The Garden Classroom and my time became split between Life Lab and UCSC CASFS to further develop children’s programs and build The Garden Classroom.

Skills learned from my dad and gleaning from CASFS staff Jim leap, Christof Bernau, and Thomas Whittman, all served me well to help create The Garden Classroom. All this has rubbed off to my own yard. It is a mini garden classroom with a pond, hens, fruit trees, cut flowers, and veggies. It was just lacking children, but in 2007 my son was born to finalize the project. Having a family garden is a whole new take on gardening with kids. Neli’s digging bed is the easiest bed to maintain in our yard. His feet and trucks do the weeding and a harvest of dirty clothes is guaranteed.

My passion for working with kids fueled me for 15 years teaching students in the mountains and on farms and gardens. But as Life Lab realized new needs and CASFS was selected as a California Department of Education Garden Resource Center, my focus began to change to networking and training adults. This led me to become an accidental techie, using websites and videos to help share the work of Life Lab with others. It feels great to share my experiences with other adults working in garden-based education.

The creation of the Garden Classroom in 2001 enabled Life Lab to better serve our local community through on-site programming. We use these experiences to enhance what we share with others across the nation and beyond. Life Lab teaches people to care for themselves, each other, and the world through farm- and garden-based programs. It puts a smile on my face to know I have been a part of making all this happen.
~ Written in 2011

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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

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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

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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!💚

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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 ❤️

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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