Life Lab

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

Life Lab
1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA, 95064
phone: 831-459-2001
fax: 831-459-3483
lifelab@lifelab.org

Our office is located at our Garden Classroom Site

Media inquiries should be directed to John Fisher at gardendirector@lifelab.org or 831-471-7831 (mobile)

Don Burgett – Executive Director – 831-459-3833 – don@lifelab.org

Don joined Life Lab in 2011 as associate director, working on finance, development, planning, and staff and board support. He served as co-director with Gail Harlamoff beginning in January 2012 and assumed the role of executive director in July 2012, when Gail left the staff and joined the board of directors. Previously, Don served as development director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation, the leading national organic farming grantmaking and advocacy organization in the U.S. Prior to a decade with OFRF, Don worked for three seasons as an apprentice and then staff of the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture at the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems, where Life Lab is located. In the 1990s, Don was a leader in urban agriculture and community food security programs, working in low-income communities across Los Angeles, co-founding the LA Community Garden Council and the LA School Greening Partnership, and co-chairing the Urban Agriculture Committee of the national Community Food Security Coalition. Don earned a BA in Geography/Ecosystems from UCLA and a Master Gardener certificate from the UC Cooperative Extension Los Angeles Common Ground Garden Program. Read more about Don.

 

John Fisher – Director of Programs and Partnerships – 831-471-7831 – gardendirector@lifelab.org

John came to Life Lab in 2000 with years of experience as an environmental educator in places such as Hidden Villa and in Honduras as a Peace Corps Volunteer. After a couple of years working at UCSC CASFS as Outreach Coordinator, creating a summer camp program, and expanding fieldtrips John came to Life Lab. With Life Lab he built and maintained the Garden Classroom and developed programming for children and UCSC interns. Currently John is focused on sharing the innovative work of Life Lab through communications, educator professional development, and networking across the state and nation. John attended UC San Diego and has a BA in Biological Anthropology. At home John tends a small flock of hens, a mini orchard, and a cut flower/vegetable garden with his wife and son. Read more about John.

Whitney Cohen – Education Director & Teacher Training – 831-459-5395 – education@lifelab.org

Whitney Cohen is a teacher, trainer, and author with tremendous commitment to, and expertise in, place-based education; student-led inquiry; strategies for engaging a diverse student population; school gardens; and the intersection between environmental education, Common Core and Next Generation academic content standards, and the public school system. As the Education Director at Life Lab, Whitney leads educator workshops nationwide and has written and contributed to various activity guides, including The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids, The Growing Classroom, and The Soil Story Curriculum. Whitney is also a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz where she teaches a course on environmental education.  Whitney received her MA in Education from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2002 and her BA in Sustainable Community Development from Vassar College in 1999. Prior to working with Life Lab, Whitney taught Earth, Life, and Physical Science and Introductory Spanish for five years in a low income, public middle school. At this school, Whitney worked with the local community to create a school garden and a watershed adoption project. In addition to classroom teaching, Whitney has worked in environmental education and public health in California, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. Read more about Whitney.

 

Emily Mastellone-Snyder – Associate Director of Development  – 831-459-3833 – emily@lifelab.org

Hailing from a tiny town in the rolling hills of western Massachusetts, Emily grew up exploring forests and playing in the garden. She attended Skidmore College in upstate NY, where she studied Sociology and Environmental Studies. California beckoned, and Emily worked for four years as a teacher naturalist at outdoor environmental education programs along the Central Coast. Emily also directed a bilingual teen center in Davenport, CA. When not teaching, Emily is drawn to the earth and she has worked on several organic farms. In 2009, she received a certificate in Ecological Horticulture through the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Emily loves incorporating music into her teaching and is fluent in Spanish. She enjoys backpacking, hiking, riding her bike, growing and cooking good food, and practicing yoga. She excitedly joined the Life Lab team in 2012 as the Garden Educator, running our Wildlands and Watering Cans Summer Camp, as well as a variety of field trips throughout the school-year. Read more about Emily.

Liz Murphy – Development Associate – 831-459-3833 – liz@lifelab.org

Liz came to Life Lab in December 2017 to work as development associate. She has a BA in Literature from UCSC. Over the last 20 years she has explored a variety of administrative work. She gradually found herself fundraising for schools and leading finance departments for farmers and lovers of good food and drink. All paths in her life lead to a love of children, nature, food and farming. In her free time you can find her sailing in the Monterey Bay.

Manny Romero – Communications & Impact Specialist – manny@lifelab.org

Hello! I am the newest member to the Life Lab team. I graduated from CalPoly Pomona with a B.F.A in Visual Communications with a minor in marketing. I am excited to share the amazing work that Life Lab does in the greater Santa Cruz County and the national impact we have.

 

 

Amber Turpin – Senior Administrative Associate – 831-459-4074 – amber@lifelab.org

Amber Turpin was fortunate enough to grow up in a garden. Since then, she has dedicated most of her efforts towards the good food movement, promoting access to ethical, delicious, and pure food for all. From freelance food writing, working as Office Manager for Slow Food Nation, starting an artisan cookie company, or pulling weeds on her small farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Amber lends a diverse passion for all things food to her work at Life Lab. Read more about Amber

 

Amy Schwerdtfeger – Sr. Program Associate – 831-459-2001 – admin@lifelab.org

 

Garden Staff

Jennifer Eckert Bernau – Garden Classroom Manager – garden@lifelab.org

Jennifer is the Garden Manager and co-director of Garden Sprouts, as well as a presenter for the Sowing the Seeds of Wonder workshop at Life Lab. She has a Master Teacher permit and an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education, a Bachelor’s in Botany as well as a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UCSC. Jennifer has been an ally and advocate for children and families for over 25 years and has been presenting workshops on gardening with children and other early childhood topics for almost 10 years.  She is a lover of all things growing and green.

 

Astrid Mendez – Garden Classroom Facilities Assistant

 

 

 

Melanie Urquizo – Garden Classroom Facilities Assistant

 

 

 

Jose Chavez – Blooming Classroom Garden Manager

 

School Programs, Camp, & Internships

Amy Carlson – Garden Education Director – 831-459-4035 – amy@lifelab.org

After a lucky childhood of camping and exploring creeks, I worked my way through college as a park naturalist, earning degrees in environmental education and music. After graduating, I discovered my love of farm- and garden-based education at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont, where I worked for two years tending a menagerie of farm animals and connecting visitors (mainly preschoolers) to their food source through activities such as milking a cow and harvesting in the garden. Since joining Life Lab in 2004, I’ve had the privilege of working with thousands of local children and many teachers, interns, and parents annually through my coordination and teaching of our field trip programs and summer camps; I’ve also expanded our programs to include Seeds of Wonder pre & K field trips and Garden Sprouts Summer Camp for 4-6 year olds, and co-created the Discovering the Garden in Early Childhood Education workshop and Seeds of Wonder curriculum. When I’m not at Life Lab, I’m getting dirty in the garden or the woods with my daughter. Read more about Amy.

Cara-Alexandra Sundell – Garden Program Manager – 831-459-4035 – cara@lifelab.org

Cara began her current position at Life Lab in 2014, but has worked with Life Lab in a variety of roles since 2007.  She brings 8 years of education experience to her position, specializing in environmental education and professional development for beginning educators.  Growing up in Chicago, she jumped on opportunities to volunteer and work at learning institutions, such as the Evanston Ecology Center and the Field Museum of Chicago.  Cara moved to Santa Cruz in 2003 so that she could live in a community that appreciates healthy living, eating well, and the natural world.  While going to school at the University of California Santa Cruz, she found her calling to be an outdoor educator while interning at Life Lab in the field trip teaching program.  After graduating from UCSC with a B.A in Environmental Studies and a minor in Anthropology, she worked at Developmental Learning Solutions, where she tutored and taught high school level science to home-school students with learning disabilities.  She worked for over 2 years at Watsonville Wetlands Watch as a wetland educator for elementary and middle school students and as an After-school Program Coordinator for a high school mentorship program.  Then, after taking a 2 year break from environmental ed to work as a Pastry Chef, she worked for close to 3 years at Web of Life Field (WOLF) School, a residential outdoor science school, as an Educator Naturalist and Program Director.  When she is not hard at work, she is hard at play, hiking, dancing, climbing, cooking, and traveling with her husband.

Aisling Mitchell – Watsonville School Garden Programs Coordinator – aisling@lifelab.org

Aisling is working to bring the Pajaro Valley Initiative to life at Amesti and Starlight Elementary Schools. She also supports the Garden Crew and Blooming Classroom Internship programs. Aisling has been involved with Life Lab in various capacities since 2012, but officially joined the team in September 2016. Aisling went to school at the University of California, Santa Cruz for a degree in Biology. Upon graduating, she served a full term with FoodCorps with Oakland Unified School District working with two elementary schools, with over 800 students signed-up for her fourteen week garden and nutrition education program with a focus on Special Needs students. She managed high school interns, co-hosted multiple health fairs for both schools and co-ran elementary school farmer’s markets. Aisling has previously worked with Harvest of the Month programs, Community Alliance for Family Farmers, the Homeless Garden Project, Brothers on the Rise, and Sprout Up among others. When she is not sporting a vegetable costume, she is enjoying the Santa Cruz lifestyle hiking, gardening, climbing, cooking elaborate dishes with her partner and running around with her two husky puppies.

 

DT Taylor – Watsonville School Garden Educator – DT@lifelab.org

Hey! I’m DT, the new Life Lab garden educator and FoodCorps service member. I graduated from UCSC in 2016 with an Art Degree focusing in Printmaking and Sculpture. In my spare time I enjoy walking to the beach and drawing in the sand, as well as making paper from vegetables.  It has been wonderful teaching summer camps for Life Lab the past four years. I am excited to be a channel for more young learners to explore new activities, concepts, and flavors! I teach NGSS classes for TK/K, 1st, and 2nd in the Fall & Spring as well as Kids Cook for 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the Winter!

 

Emma Christie – Watsonville School Garden Educator – emma@lifelab.org

Hi everyone! My name is Emma Christie and I am the new Life Lab Garden Educator for this school year! I graduated this past spring from UCSC where I studied Environmental Studies. I worked with Life Lab in the Blooming Classroom in Watsonville last year and hope to see some familiar faces in the garden this year! In my spare time I enjoy hiking and going to the beach. I teach NGSS classes for TK/K, 1st, and 2nd in the Fall & Spring as well as Kids Cook for 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the Winter. Looking forward to a great year!

 

 

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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