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 month ago

Readers To Eaters

Time for Summer Gardening! Thrilled to partner on @big green’s #ReadAsYouGrow, "connecting the stories and ideas that they are exploring in these fantastic books to what they can observe while growing food in their garden," with Readers To Eaters books in English & Spanish. See video on prgrm+ resource bit.ly/3JLxGMe ..#SummerGardening #SummerLearning #SummerReading #KidsGardening #OutdoorEducation National Summer Learning AssociationNational Environmental Education Foundation – NEEFNational Farm to School Network Common ThreadsNational Agriculture in the Classroom Life Lab

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1 month ago

Readers To Eaters

Love this new review on Sandor Katz and the Tiny Wild from Shelf Awareness! bit.ly/3bG3czi "Martin and Lee incorporate quotes from Katz throughout their energetic, onomatopoeic text… Julie Wilson’s casual, enthusiastic, earth-toned illustrations suit the subject and Katz’s effervescent personality. The entertainment value here is rivaled by expansive backmatter including an afterword by Katz addressing readers, a visual guide to kraut-making, long author and illustrator notes (including ethnographic research) and additional resources.A fizzy and informative celebration of fermentation that enthusiastically supports curious experimentation and food literacy."..#FoodLiteracy #FoodEducation #FoodHeroes #FoodBiography #FoodWriter #Fermentor #Fermentation #NoHeatCooking #TinyWild #Microbes #FoodScience #STEM #LGBTQ #Queer #QueerCommunity #SummerReading #SummerLearning #SummerCooking #SummerGardening #KidsGardening American Farm Bureau Foundation for AgricultureNational Farm to School Network Tennessee Library Association Tennessee Agriculture in the ClassroomSlow Food Middle TennesseeJunior Master Gardener Program The American Horticultural Society Big Green Life LabChelsea Green Publishing

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2 months ago

Philip Lee

So excitd about #MDSNAPEd #EatYourWords kickoff Thur! Check out video on summer program connecting #NutritionEducation & #EarlyLiteracy, giving away 50,000 Sylvia’s Spinach at schools and #FarmersMarkets. Event info+ kickoff w author Katherine Pryor+ resources @ extension.umd.edu/eat-your-words..#SNAPEd #EarlyLiteracy #FoodLiteracy #FoodEducation #Nutrition #NutritionEducation #EatingFresh #EatingVegetables #KidsGardneing #SchoolGarden #FarmToSchoolSlow Food USA School Garden NetworkBig Green Common Threads Pilot Light Life Lab

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#tbt to that time two weeks ago we were at the School Garden Support Organization – SGSO – Network conference organized by Sprouts Farmers Market and Life Lab !Check out this cool recap video Jen put together – love how we’re #growingschoolgardens together!#veggiecatethefirststate #STEMeducation #handsonlearning #schoolgardens #kidswhogarden

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3 months ago

Life Lab

www.lifelab.org/jobs Full-time Bilingual Garden Educators at PVUSD School Gardens and Summer Program Staff at Garden Classroom on UCSC Farm

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3 months ago

Life Lab

Full-time Career and Summer Staff Positions in @pajarovalleyusd school gardens and the Life Lab Garden Classroom. On the @ucscagroecology farm @ucsc @pvusdschoolfood lifeLab.org/jobs

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3 months ago

Readers To Eaters

Thrilled that The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter is NC Farm Bureau "Ag in the Classroom" #BookOfTheMonth! Check out their terrific Activity Guide, including a few fun facts:• The honeybee is the state insect for North Carolina and 15 other states? • In North Carolina, bees help to pollinate strawberries, apples, and broccoli to name a few.bit.ly/3tE6nLASee this reading of author/illustrator Shabazz Larkin for PBS/ Thirteen WNET New York. bit.ly/32LQ0S0Good sharing for United Nations #WorldBeeDay on 5/20 and June #NationalPollinatorsMonth. ..#AgClassroom #AgLiteracy #AITC #FarmToSchool #Bees #Pollinators #Pollination #FoodLiteracy #FoodEducation #DiverseBooks National Agriculture in the ClassroomAmerican Farm Bureau Foundation for AgricultureNCLA: North Carolina Library AssociationNC School Library Media AssociationState Library of North CarolinaASAP – Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture ProjectNational Farm to School Network The Bee Cause Project The Pollinator Partnership North Carolina State Beekeepers AssociationNC Beekeepers Forsyth County Beekeepers Association of N.C.Whole Kids Foundation Big Green FoodCorps Life LabThe Black Church Food Security Network The Brown Bookshelf Multicultural Children’s Book Day We Need Diverse Books

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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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Full Time Garden Instructors and Supervisors