Life Lab

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

Amber Turpin

Amber TurpinI am happy to be one of the lucky ones to grow up in a garden. My family always had a big plot, abundant with tall stalks of corn and tangles of tomato vines. We also had a fruit orchard and it might be argued that the amount apricots I consumed as a kid would have made me sick of them, but I’m not. The natural environment that surrounded me at my childhood home became the source and inspiration for every activity I engaged in, from solo picnics in the willow grove to inventing songs with the wildflowers.

In the 1970’s, a few years before I was born, my parents were among the founding few to start The Family School in the Santa Ynez Valley. This was an early incarnation of environmental education, and we learned by watching nature and applying those lessons to our school work. “Class” very often involved long hikes collecting various leaves and rocks, eating miner’s lettuce and sifting through sand, with much less time indoors than out. This awareness and appreciation for nature, and the access we easily had to it every single day at school, created a central core within me and my classmates (many of whom I am still in touch with and know they hold similar value to our early education). That core calls wild woods, meandering creeks and abundant gardens normal, and can’t imagine a world without them.

Some of my earliest memories revolve around these places of nature, and because of that, my life and work has been influence by those impressions in countless ways. A glittering ocean view from a hill above Santa Cruz is what brought me to UCSC. After graduating from the Community Studies Department in 2000, a farm along the majestic Eel River took me north to Emandal. It was there, working as a cook for kid’s and family camps, that a deeper connection to food as an expression of my already strong sense of the environment took hold. Even while living in San Francisco, racing along the dirty sidewalks and honking horns every day, that bigger theme of food propelled me in the Slow Food Nation office.

Since then, I’ve returned to a little property in the Santa Cruz Mountains to embody all I’ve learned along the way at a place called home. The corn and tomatoes are being planted right now, and instead of apricot trees, we have apples. Last harvest season brought us an amazing bounty, including our baby daughter Hazel. By this harvest, she may have a couple teeth to sink into those tomatoes and her very favorite thing is to watch the trees.

Being part of the Life Lab family feels like an extension of my own childhood, and I am so happy everyday to be able to come to work and know that I am translating that back into the world through all that we do here. I can perhaps be proof that the children who are fortunate enough to experience time at Life Lab, learning about the world through the garden, will likewise grow up to continue promoting that early influence…a crucial thing as we face more and more environmental devastation. Hazel is the newest addition to the Life Lab staff, joining me three days a week to spice up office life. When she gets fed up with emails and meetings, we simply go outside… 

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Thanks to the Whole Kids Foundation for the generous grant and to Big Creek Lumber for your donation to the Amesti Eagles' Garden. With the generous support of Life Lab and other community supporters, our students are receiving the gift of hands-on Next Generation Science Standards and learning about healthy eating in a beautiful outdoor classroom!

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Do you ever wonder what is living just below the surface of the San Lorenzo River? Join the Coastal Watershed Council and Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History for tomorrow's Exploring the San Lorenzo River tour and find out!

We will be meeting at 8:30 on the Santa Cruz Riverwalk next to Mike Fox park and will be seining for fish and collecting benthic macroinvertebrates aka bugs! We will learn about the organisms that live in the San Lorenzo River and their food webs. This tour is open to all ages. You can sign up online or by emailing CWC River Scientist Alev Bilginsoy at Learn more at
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At a @soilbornfarms school garden conference, in a workshop on trees reminded me of this incredible Radiolab Podcast podcast. Listen to this one. ... See MoreSee Less

Forests feel like a place of great stillness but dig deeper and there’s a hidden world beneath your feet as busy and complicated as a city. 

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LIFE LAB on MAUI! so AnB stopped sugar production on Maui this year, there is tons of land available to lease and they are now taking offers. If farmers or farm educators won't get to it, it will turn into development, there are not enough offers from farmers and we need more, so please pass this on to those that are interested. To speak to An B need to look them up and make an offer. They are taking offers now! ... See MoreSee Less

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Rachel PringleSenior Director of ProgramsEducation Outside

Life Lab has been the most innovative and relevant organization in this field. From providing the best curriculum to their cutting edge professional development, we have relied on Life Lab as our go to organization for support, ideas, and collaboration.

Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps

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.

Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary

Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.

Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom

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.