Life Lab

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

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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19 hours ago

Life Lab

We wanted to say thank you to everyone who made our Spring Benefit Brunch such a special event. Without your generous support Life Lab could not continue doing this very important work. We hope that you all had as much fun as we did.🌱

If you could not make it to the brunch but would like to know more information on how you can make a contribution to our impactful work click this link ****. 🐝

A very special thank you to @EllasattheAirport for all the delicious food we enjoyed🍽️, @whalecitybakery for the amazing pastries😋, and @coffeevillesantacruz for the gourmets coffee☕.
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#mylifelab #lifelab #lifelabscience #gardenbasedlearning #gardening #santacruz #Watsonville #ellasattheairport #wahlecitybakery #community See MoreSee Less

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1 week ago

Life Lab

We are only a few days away from our Annual Benefit Brunch😋

It’s not too late to join this complimentary event.Registration closes today😄

The brunch will go on rain or shine, and we have a large indoor space to get cozy and drink tea and coffee in before the brunch starts–please don’t let the rain stop you from coming! ☂️

Register now bit.ly/2Gwnucz🌳 See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

Just a friendly reminder Life Lab’s Annual Benefit Brunch is happening THIS Sunday, May 19th.

You don’t want to miss it this year, we have some very special speakers, including Congressperson Jimmy Panetta!.

www.lifelab.org/brunch See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

Great news! We still have a few spots left for the Benefit Brunch next Sunday but hurry before it’s too late.

Come enjoy a fresh, delicious meal lovingly prepared meal by @cafe.ella.restaurant and an inspiring program.

Register now!
www.lifelab.org/brunch See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

🥕VOTE FOR LIFE LAB! 🥕

Help us grow healthy children and reduce your carbon footprint. 🌿

EVERY time you visit ANY New Leaf Community Market (@NewLeafCMarket) from now until May 27th, find the PAPER BALLOT in the store & VOTE FOR LIFE LAB to be a recipient of the Envirotoken program. 10 cents from every reusable bag can be donated to us.

This support has provided a wonderful boost for us over the years–thanks for your votes! ✅ See MoreSee Less

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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