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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6 days ago

Life Lab

Headed to New Leaf Community Markets for some shopping?

You can cast your Envirotoken Vote for your favorite non-profit (Hint: Life Lab 😄 ) every time you shop until December 16th.

Ask for your paper ballet at every store!Vote for Life Lab to be a New Leaf Community Markets Envirotoken recipient every time you shop! Paper ballots will be in every New Leaf store until Dec. 16h! See MoreSee Less

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1 week ago

Life Lab

Vote for Life Lab to be a New Leaf Community Markets Envirotoken recipient every time you shop! Paper ballots will be in every New Leaf store until Dec. 16h! See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

We’ve kicked off our Year End Giving Campaign by raising $4600 on #givingtuesday. Thank you!

For 2019 Life Lab wants to bring more children into school gardens than ever before. More hands in dirt, more love of healthy foods and more kids saying, "I’m a scientist!"

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

"Wow, these seeds are so tiny. It’s hard to imagine that they are going to grow into something so big!"

Your donation to Life Lab awakens curiosity in children, join us for #GivingTuesday and plant seeds of hope for the future!

www.lifelab.org/donate

#BeAPartOfIt, #Donate, #SeedsOfHope, #MakingChange See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

#GivingTuesday is still going strong. Doesn’t it feel great to know everyone working together can make a real difference? Be a part of the movement! www.lifelab.org/donate
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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

We share our work nationally through workshops and curriculum for teachers and our School Garden Support Organization Leadership Program. Participating educators tell us this impacts over 500,000 students annually!

Be a part of it! www.lifelab.org/donate

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

We look to our work with children and understand that now, more than ever, we must raise our children to be loving stewards of the Earth. For the next generation to protect, defend, and preserve the Earth, they must understand and love it. A gift to Life Lab connects 500,000 children each year across the nation to the natural world, and allows them to discover their potential to care for it. YOU can influence change today by supporting Life Lab’s work.

www.lifelab.org/donate

#OnlyOnePlanet, #ProtectWhatYouLove See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

“Kids participated in garden lessons right before recess. Once recess began, however, they didn’t want to leave the garden! They thought it was better than recess!” ~1st Grade Teacher & Garden Champion at a Santa Cruz County school

This #GivingTuesday, join us in sharing joy and curiosity with thousands of children.

www.lifelab.org/donate

#BeAPartOfIt, #optoutside, #healthykids, #giveback, #donate, #PayItForward, #nonprofit, #SantaCruzCounty See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

Last school year, Life Lab’s Santa Cruz County programs served:
-5,193 students
-over 900 lessons
-143 teachers’ classes
-37 schools

This #GivingTuesday, help ensure we can offer these hands-on, life-changing programs to children regardless of what they can pay.

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

“I love making the rainbow smoothie. It had something new for me–that was the spinach. I made it at home. I love it and my mom made something new!”

~ Amesti Elementary School 4th Grader as part of our Kids Cook program

Your gift today helps us offer 70% of our garden-based programs FREE to children whose families/schools could not otherwise afford them.

www.lifelab.org/donate

#GivingTuesday, #BeAPartOfIt, #optoutside, #healthykids, #giveback, #donate, #PayItForward, #nonprofit 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