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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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 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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