Life Lab

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

Santa Cruz School Food and Gardens Tour

Pacific Elementary School GardenAudience

Anyone interested or involved in school food and/or school gardens


$150/$180 includes Food Lab Lunch

See upcoming dates at our tour and workshop registration page


The Santa Cruz area is home to some of the most impressive and long standing school garden programs in the nation. 

Possible Tour Stops:

Westlake Elementary School
Pacific Elementary School FoodLab
Pacific Elementary School Gardens
Bonny Doon Elementary School Garden, Orchard, Hen House, and Science/Nutrition Lab
Gault School Garden and Nutrition Education Program

The tour will be lead by John Fisher of Life Lab. John is a Life Lab Trainer, and a school garden parent volunteer. He has been leading school garden tours of the Monterey Bay Area since 2007, and brings much enthusiasm and a desire to share his experiences with others involved in garden-based education. 

Key Tour Components

Learn …

* School garden design principles

* Best practices from the garden coordinators at 4 stellar, longstanding school garden programs

* How the students at one elementary school participate in cooking healthy school lunches every day and how one district has revamped their meal program.

Discuss …

* How people in Santa Cruz and across the nation are using gardening and cooking to bring academic learning to life; increase environmental literacy; inspire healthy eating; and support social/emotional growth in their students

* Challenges and triumphs in the effort to change school food


Participant Comments

If you are interested in creating, improving, or learning new ideas about school gardens, this is the tour for you.

As a long-time school garden educator, it's so useful to "cross-pollinate" every once in a while. This tour was a great way to get an in-depth (but quick) glimpse into the workings of 4 different, but inspiring school garden programs.

New school gardeners or seasoned pros will benefit from this tour. Prepare yourself for an exciting opportunity to see well defined, organized school gardens and cafeteria food service improvements. Don't forget a camera, pen and paper. You will want to take notes and pictures so you don't forget all the great ideas to apply to your own program.

The tour was a great experience and would be beneficial to anyone and everyone. It gave a wide perspective on not only garden-based education in schools, but also how such education translates to healthy food access in cafeterias.

This tour was a great way to experience the diversity of challenges communities face when seeking nutritional change for kids. It is also informative and inspiring to learn how communities overcome great obstacles to move forward and truly connect kids with healthy food .

Any garden educator, teacher, or anyone simply interested in school gardens and nutrition enhancement, should come to these workshops. They have endless resources. The ability to network with individuals with different experience levels is also a big PLUS.

Past year's tour stops:

Westlake Elementary School Garden is a well-kept site with an active greenhouse, composting systems, friendly hens, fruit trees and veggies. Jane Forbes, their long time garden coordinator, was instrumental in securing district funding for all four Santa Cruz elementary school garden coordinators.

View a video of Jane teaching a compost lesson in her garden.

Pacific Elementary School is run by classroom teachers, parents and community volunteers. Six of their garden beds are dedicated to the production of greens that are incorporated in to their Food Lab school meal program. In addition to viewing the K-6 garden, we will also take a peek at the preschool garden onsite.

During our visit, we will have the opportunity to observe Food Lab students preparing a nutritious and delicious school lunch, which we will share. 
View videos and press related to Pacific School Food Lab and Life Lab at their garden website.

DeLaveaga Elementary School is one of four gardens with a district funded garden coordinator. This long standing, large garden is ran by Kim Gal a past Life Lab intern and garden-nutrition educator.

Live Oak School District School Food Service has re-envisioned their school meal program by constructing a new central kitchen that works to incorporate more scratch cooking. We will meet with Rachel Otis, director of Child Nutrition for the district. Read more about LOSD Food Service.


View all scheduled upcoming Garden Classroom workshops/tours

All workshops and tours require advanced registration and deposit.

To set up a workshop for your school site, please call Life Lab at (831) 459-3833 or email us at

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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
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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