Life Lab Director of Programs and Partnerships
- Affiliations and Presentations
- The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids: 101 Ways to get Kids Outside, Dirty, and Having Fun. by Whitney Cohen and John Fisher
- See videos of John teaching, speaking, and singing
- View archived webinars presented by John
- Websites John helps manage and publish: www.csgn.org, www.lifelab.org, www.sgsonetwork.org
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