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

Our office is located at our Garden Classroom Site

Media inquiries should be directed to John Fisher at or 831-471-7831 (mobile)

Don Burgett – Executive Director – 831-459-3833 –

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.

Judit Camacho – Co-Executive Director – 831-459-3833 –

I am thrilled to be part of Life Lab’s extraordinary team and 40-year mission.

My experience with nonprofits extends over 20 years. I served two terms as the Executive Director for SACNAS- Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americas in Science whose mission is to diversify science nationwide. In between these times, I was invited to work at the National Institutes of Health to develop research programs for underrepresented communities. And most recently, I supported nonprofits in Mexico, Colombia and the US with strategic planning and fund development.

I hold an undergraduate degree in mathematics from the University of California Santa Cruz, graduate coursework in Public Health from Johns Hopkins and a master degree in Ontological Coaching from the Universidad San Sebastian in Santiago, Chile.

I look forward to deepening Life Lab’s roots in Santa Cruz County while cultivating a stronger network across the country. It will be a pleasure to meet each of you to expand the limits of education through the wonder of the garden classroom.

John Fisher – Director of Programs and Partnerships – 831-471-7831 –

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 – 831-459-2001 –

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.

Sara Severance- Educator Training Specialist – 831-459-5395 –

Sara comes to Life Lab after working as a public school science teacher, science instructional coach and science education researcher for the past 14 years. Sara brings expertise in implementing and facilitating NGSS-aligned lessons for diverse learners in the classroom and other informal spaces and strongly believes in making science accessible to everyone. Her passion for children and the outdoors started as a child attending summer camp on a lake in northern Michigan and led her to a teaching career in Denver, Colorado where she worked with a variety of students using educational programs such as Expeditionary Learning, Amplify Science, and the International Baccalaureate program. More recently, she led professional development for science and engineering teachers while also conducting formalized research in her classroom related to the implementation of NGSS-aligned curriculum and best practices in science education. Sara received her MA in curriculum and instruction in secondary science from the University of Colorado, Boulder and her BS in biology from the University of Michigan. Sara enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 children, reading, and playing ultimate frisbee and volleyball.

Emily Mastellone-Snyder – Associate Director of Development  – 831-459-3833 –

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.


Nikki Patterson – Associate Director of Development  – 831-459-3833 –

Nikki joined the Life Lab development team Fall of 2019 just in time to celebrate our 40th Anniversary Gala.   Nikki is from Washington state native. She received an Intl Studies degree from the University of South Florida.  Her past experiences working in education, the food and wine industry, and community advocacy bring insight and a deep network to Life Lab.  Nikki loves to travel, nature, gardening, food, bringing people together, and being a mother of 2.  



                          Manny Romero – Communications & Impact Specialist –

Hello! I am the newest member of 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 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 –

Amy was born and raised in Livermore California and enjoys living in Santa Cruz with her husband and 7 month old daughter, Sierra. Amy is a middle school teacher by trade, but has enjoyed her time with the Life Lab crew since 2018, specifically helping to coordinate logistics for workshops/SGSO and interacting with all of the sweet campers, field trippers, and workshop attendees who come to the garden. In her spare time you can find Amy running, surfing, mountain biking, or most likely taking Sierra for a walk to show her the trees, bushes, and flowers!



Garden Staff

Jennifer Eckert Bernau – Garden Classroom Manager –

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.






                                    Tania – Garden Classroom Facilities Assistant




                              Shaylee – Garden Classroom Facilities Assistant




                                    Jose Chavez – Blooming Classroom Garden Manager




School Programs, Camp, & Internships

Amy Carlson – Garden Education Director – 831-459-4035 –

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 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 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.

Daniela Etchegaray – Bilingual Garden Educator –

Hi! I’m Daniela and I am excited to join the Life Lab team as a bilingual garden educator! After graduating in Psychology in Mexico City I worked on several environmental projects on my way to discovering garden-based education. It was in the garden I realized the potential for natural settings to inspire children to love and take care of the natural world and themselves. I have worked as a garden educator in different schools in Mexico and have managed garden education programs and the garden itself. I’m always excited to learn about and practice organic agriculture and permaculture with friends. I enjoy watching sunsets, gazing at the night sky and observing new bugs and plants while on a hike.


DT Taylor – Watsonville School Garden Educator –

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 –

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!

Abby Hauth – Watsonville School Garden Educator-

Hi! My name is Abby Hauth and this will be my second school year as a FoodCorps service member teaching in MacQuiddy’s garden. I am a native Oregonian and graduated from the University of Oregon where I studied City Planning, Public Policy and Nonprofit Management with an emphasis in Food Studies. I am excited to spend the upcoming school year working in school gardens and sharing my passion for cooking healthy, simple meals. In my free time I love hiking along the beautiful central coast (while stopping to pet every dog I see) and cooking meals with friends and family!


Grace Greenfield – Watsonville School Garden Educator-

Hi! My name is Grace Greenfield  and I am the new Life Lab Garden Educator and Climate Corps fellow for this school year! I was born and raised in Santa Cruz and just  graduated this past spring from Lewis & Clark College in Portland OR, where I studied Sociology/Anthropology. I worked with Life Lab teaching summer camps for the past four years! In my spare time I enjoy cooking and eating yummy food with my family, sewing clothes and art, as well as exploring all the wonders of this area. I am so excited to 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 learn with and from all the students this year!


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Life Lab 40th
Life Lab’s 40th Gala – Sunday, October 13th  Celebrate 40 years of bringing learning to life in gardens. Learn more  
Life Lab's 40th Gala
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
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