Life Lab

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

John Fisher

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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Teaching a Growing Classroom Workshop at @OakSpringGardenFoundation in collaboration with I feel like I’ve fallen into a small French village. This is the former estate of Paul and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon in Virginia. Mrs. Mellon was an avid horticulturalist who designed the White House Rose Garden! I am staying in the room where Jackie Kennedy stayed when she visited here!! Sharing a weekend in this space with teachers who love kids and gardens is a truly unforgettable experience. ... See MoreSee Less

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Just when I thought we’d seen it all ... this is an agrophotovoltaic school garden underneath massive solar panels at @Manzo.Ecology in Tucson. The elementary school students here gather and analyze data on how the shade from the panels helps the plants grow and how the plants help cool the panels and increase their efficiency. What?!?! It’s amazing and gives me hope. Oh, and also they have a desert tortoise in their courtyard. ... See MoreSee Less

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Have you heard?! Life Lab is one of New Leaf Community Markets' recipients of their EnviroToken program at their Westside Santa Cruz store! So get your shopping on, bring your reusable bags, and donate 10¢ to Life Lab with every bag you use! Thank you, New Leaf!
#thankyou, #grateful, #ReduceReuseRecycle, #isupportlifelab
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What happens when Whole Kids Foundation partners with you to bring 50+ leaders from School Garden Support Organizations from across the country together to get to talk shop, inspire each other, problem-solve around shared challenges, and eat amazing food prepared and served by happy 5th graders? MAGIC. That's what happens. #sgso2018 ... See MoreSee Less

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Have you heard?! Life Lab is one of New Leaf Community Markets' recipients of their EnviroToken program for their Westside Santa Cruz store! So get your shopping on, bring your reusable bags, and donate 10¢ to Life Lab with every bag you use! Thank you, New Leaf!
#thankyou, #grateful, #ReduceReuseRecycle, #isupportlifelab
... See MoreSee Less

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We are so grateful to be starting 2018 with such strong support! Because of so many generous gifts from our supporters like you, we surpassed our 2017 fundraising goal of $124,000, with all campaign donations totaling $125,835.

These funds will help make Life Lab field trip and summer camp programs possible for children from families and schools that could otherwise not afford them. We believe that ALL children deserve the chance to love learning, healthy food, and nature. Thanks to your support, this year we will serve even more children in Santa Cruz County and across the nation.


#beapartofit, #startingstrong, #changinglives, #isupportlifelab
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Happy almost 2018, Life Lab fans! We are only $809 dollars away from reaching our $124,000 year-end fundraising goal! Before you ring in the new year, will you help us ensure a promising 2018? 100% of the funds necessary to do this important work come from grants and from individuals like you. Will you join us in ensuring that we can continue to deepen and expand our reach, so that even more children can experience the joy of loving learning, healthy food, and nature? Your tax-deductible gift made by midnight tonight will go directly to supporting our programs.
#beapartofit, #changinglives, #optoutside, #gardenbasededucation, #happynewyear
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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.
Rachel PringleSenior Director of ProgramsEducation Outside
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