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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2 days ago

Life Lab

It was such a pleasure reconnecting with all the garden educators from the Santa Cruz area yesterday. You all are doing an incredible job! We hoped that you all had a great time sharing your experience in working at your school’s garden. We look forward to seeing you very soon!

If were not able to make it to yesterdays Garden Educator Gathering, please sign up for our mailing list so you can keep up to date with all of our events. We have some really exciting 40th celebrations coming soon.

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4 days ago

Life Lab

Thank you to all the educators that came out and participated in our Intro to NGSS workshop. It was great meeting all of you. An extra special thank you to Edible Schoolyard Japan (エディブル・スクールヤード・ジャパン) for coming all the way from Japan to be a part of our workshop!

If you’re interested in joining our upcoming workshops click here bit.ly/2TkFnye See MoreSee Less

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1 week ago

Life Lab

Life Lab is hiring an Educator Training Specialist!!!

We are looking for an individual who is personable, approachable, and flexible nature; that has outstanding teaching and organizational skills.

Life Lab’s Educator Training Specialist will manage our on- and off-site educator workshops and lead some of our workshops. Tasks will include:

• Offsite Workshop Coordination
• Onsite Workshop Coordination
• Lead Educator Workshops
• Curriculum Development

Key Qualities of the Educator Training Specialist are:

• a deep commitment to the mission of Life Lab, which is to cultivate children’s love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education
• cross-cultural competency, with a deep commitment to equity and inclusion in education
• outstanding teaching skills
• 3 or more years of experience teaching children in a school garden or other outdoor education setting
• experience leading trainings for educators or other adult learners

If this sounds like a job made just for you please click here for more details.

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1 week ago

Life Lab

Looking for ideas to keep your school gardens tended and active during the summer? Are you thinking of new ways to bring garden-based learning to a community garden or farm site? Join us for a webinar on the ins and outs of running kids day camp programs on educational gardens.

Erin Jackson, Education Director at Gallatin Valley Farm to School, and Amy Carlson, Garden Education Director at Life Lab, will share their years of experience and resources for creating day camp programs.

From promotions to post assessments and everything in between, this hour long webinar will provide you with inspiration and ideas to create or enhance summer programming on your educational garden or farm.

To register click here! bit.ly/2HhsJP5 See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

Thanks Christine at KidsGardening.org for sharing a good winter time lesson from The Growing Classroom.Christine shares a hands-on garden planning lesson using mapping, math, and scale drawing skills from one of our best-known resources, The Growing Classroom!… See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

www.lifelab.org/gcworkshop
Join Us For a 2019 Life Lab Garden Classroom Workshop

~ Meet and learn from other garden-based educators

~ Be inspired by our model educational Garden Classroom Site

~ Enjoy a delicious, fresh meal

~ Take home lessons and resources to use in the garden or classroom See MoreSee Less

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2 months ago

Life Lab

Last week we were thrilled to have garden educators from around the country collaborate at our School Garden Support Organization Leadership Institute.

Will you apply next year? Pictures (and smiles) tell it better than our words can.

Thank you all for participating!Kristen and Kat spent last week at the School Garden Support Organization Leadership Institute hosted by Life Lab in Santa Cruz, California. The institute provided the opportunity for us to learn best practices in networking, sustainability, evaluation, school standards, and more from school garden organizations from all over the country. We also got to visit some truly dreamy and fully-integrated school gardens. We can’t wait to share our BIG goals and vision for OKC Harvest with you! 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