Life Lab

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

Amy Carlson

Garden Educator & Camp Programs Coordinator

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Amy contributed to Sowing Seeds of Wonder and The Growing Classroom
 

Amy CarlsonI feel incredibly lucky to be here, since 2004, and so inspired by what we do. It’s amazing to be a part of an organization that is continually growing and changing—as if Life Lab is a garden itself! In my time here at Life Lab, we have added three new field trip programs, a new summer camp, a number of new publications… and that’s only what I have had the pleasure of being involved with. Our new Blooming Classroom has also sprouted up in the past few years, as well as many new educator workshops and a wealth of online resources for educational gardens.

I came to Life Lab from a long road of outdoor experiences, beginning with my childhood camping trips. My family camped for two weeks or more each summer, and monthly the rest of the year. I spent many hours exploring hillsides and creeks with my friends on those trips, building things out of sticks, climbing trees, swimming in rivers, eating huckleberries, and watching dragonflies. My family did not have a garden, but I spent much time in a neighbor’s wild backyard, bringing home tadpoles and creating my own “tadpole garden” which frogs returned to for years, laying their eggs in my dish-tub pond. My first experience eating food straight from the plant was a visit to my uncle’s farm in Montana, where we wandered the long rows and crunched green beans. That childhood memory of eating fresh food straight from the source stuck with me and is an experience I have the privilege of providing for children every day at Life Lab.

In college I worked toward my dream of becoming a park naturalist, volunteering at state and national parks teaching interpretive programs. I even paid my dues working as a living history guide at a California mission, to get the required experience to be hired as a naturalist by CA State Parks! For five summers I worked as a park naturalist, while studying environmental education (a major I created) and then music at Humboldt State University. While at Humboldt I got my first taste of garden-based learning as a volunteer in the children’s garden at the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology. I’ll never forget helping 2-year-olds plant fava beans and watching them blow a kiss to each bean to help it grow!

I truly discovered my love for garden- and farm-based education after graduating, at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont. I worked there for two seasons as a Farm Educator in the Children’s Farmyard, and was swept away by the important and beautiful task of getting kids connected to their food supply. Along with the visiting children, mainly preschool-aged, I milked cows, brushed horses, made butter, fed sheep, combed wool, picked and ate strawberries and green beans, watched baby goats come into the world, and rounded up chickens at the end of the day. While in Vermont, I earned my Master Gardener certification in hopes of continuing along the path of garden-based learning.

Back in California in 2003, I completed an internship (and worked at my first summer camp) at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills, and then serendipitously found Life Lab and a position here as a Garden Educator. Soon after finishing at Hidden Villa, my parents were helping me and my partner move to Santa Cruz and we decided spontaneously to attend the Harvest Festival at the UCSC Farm. My dad was browsing the info tables at the Harvest Fest and saw a job announcement on the Life Lab table. He said something to the effect of “Oh, let me get my daughter!!!” to Gail, our director, and brought me over to talk with her and John Fisher. Five days later, I was Life Lab’s newest Garden Educator, leading field trips in the Garden Classroom and counting my lucky stars!

Since then I have taken on coordination as well as teaching of our summer camps, field trip programs, and internship program, as well as doing special projects such as helping develop the Sowing the Seeds of Wonder preschool & Kindergarten garden curriculum and workshops, or putting together a school garden manual for the American Heart Association. My current favorite accomplishment at Life Lab is the creation of our newest camp, Garden Sprouts for 4-6 year olds. This camp has been a huge success and absolute delight, and I can’t wait to teach it again this year.

Outside of my time here at Life Lab, I tend my own garden and my own little gardener, my daughter Greta, born in 2007. Cooking fresh food and making music also occupy my days. “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow…”

 

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It takes a village... ... See MoreSee Less

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 abilginsoy@coastal-watershed.org. Learn more at coastal-watershed.org/what-we-do/exploring-san-lorenzo-river-series/.
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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.