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 weeks ago

Life Lab

Become a Life Lab Certified Gardener! 🌱🌻Based on the success of our first four cohorts of Life Lab-Certified Garden Educators, we are excited to announce that registration is now open for individuals to register and be part of our fifth cohort starting January 23rd, 2023! 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 successful 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 4 weeks long and include 4 synchronous meetings, at-home work, and a unique coaching model. The total commitment for the full series is 16 weeks. Check out our website for more information! Registration for the full certification series is now open. Please share with others who are looking for ideas and inspiration in the garden! There are 24 spots available and we sold out in our last 4 certification series. We hope you can join us!Life Lab offers a limited number of course fee reductions based on need and anticipated impact. To apply for financial assistance, follow the link below. Scholarship applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis between now and December 1st, 2022 or until all funds have been awarded.

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2 months ago

Life Lab

Thanks Shmuel! and all those that joined the Starlight workday.

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7 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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7 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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7 months ago

Life Lab

We are so glad to be a part of this year’s Growing School Gardens Summit! 415 attendees from 45 states across the US, representing 6,000+ school gardens serving more than 2.5 million students. Here we go!!

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9 months ago

Life Lab

Rainbow Chips 📗🌱📙🍊📕🍅In this lesson students introduce themselves, create group agreements, listen to a story about a rainbow, and then go on a search for different colors in order to begin to form a personal connection with the #gardenclassroom .Also, we just wanted to show this really awesome squash gradience 😄#gardenbasededucation #NGSS #scienceinthegarden #schoolgarden #NGSGintheGarden

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9 months ago

Life Lab

Food Factories 🍅🥗😋In this lesson, students find leaves with holes in them and then construct explanations for what might havecaused those holes. They listen to a story book and add further possible explanations for the holes. Thenthey explore the garden to prepare to engage in argument from evidence about which explanation for these holes seems the most plausible. Finally, they relate this concept to plants that humans eat.#NGSGintheGarden #NGSS #gardenbasededucation

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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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