Life Lab

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

Information and Application for the 2021 SGSO Leadership Institute will be Available in July 2020

Join the School Garden Support Organization Network E-list to be part of a national dialogue of school garden support organizations and to be notified of future Leadership Institute dates.

Learn more about the School Garden Support Organization Network at

View our Best Practices Documents and Webinars


2019 SGSO Leadership Institute Participant Comments


This Leadership Institute is designed for teams of 2 from School Garden Support Organizations (SGSOs). A SGSO may be a nonprofit organization, university, government agency, foundation, school district, or other entity focused specifically on supporting garden-based learning for multiple schools in their region. SGSOs work to elevate the quality and sustainability of school garden programs across their region, serving thousands of children each.

Each SGSO invited to attend will send 2 key leaders to the Institute. We are particularly seeking SGSOs that:

  • Primarily support elementary school gardens
  • Have relevance with racially and economically diverse communities
  • Have a primary focus on providing trainings for garden-based educators in their region
  • Plan to host garden-based professional development for educators in 2020
  • Committed to enhancing the ways your organization assesses program outcomes
  • Plan to conduct or report on an assessment of your program outcomes in 2020


At the 5-day institute we will be working towards the following goals:

  • Learn from one another about how we accomplish common SGSO Activities so that we can better our practice
  • Make organizational site plans for Professional Development and Program Assessment
  • Develop and update resources to share with a wider national audience

The institute will take place at Mission Springs Conference Center, located in a redwood forest near Santa Cruz, CA. Thanks to generous support from Whole Kids Foundation, participants are only responsible to pay a nominal fee* based on their organization’s capacity. Scholarships are also available to ensure that travel expenses do not present a barrier for attendance. Once participants arrive at one of our local airports, all lodging, meals, and airport-to-conference center transportation will be provided.

*Institute Fee – Suggested Sliding Scale

Annual Organizational Budget Suggested Contribution Per Participant
< $100,000 ………………………………….

$100,000 – $250,000 ……………………….

$250,000 – $500,000 ……………………….

$500,000 – $1,000,000 …………….………

> $1,000,000 ……………………………….


$150 / participant

$300 / participant

$450 / participant

$600 / participant


Affordability and Travel Stipends

With generous support from Whole Kids Foundation, we are able to provide airfare stipends to people for whom cost would otherwise present a barrier to participation.


Draft Institute Agenda

Sunday – Arrival by 4pm Dinner, Meet and Greet

Monday – Key Activity Discussion, Lunch and Tour Pacific Elementary FoodLab, Working Group Time, Evening Fire

Tuesday  – Best Practices in Professional Development at the Life Lab Garden Classroom on the UC Santa Cruz Farm, Explore Downtown Santa Cruz for Dinner

Wednesday  – Key Activity Discussion, Working Group Time, SGSO Shorts, Networking Dinner with Local School Garden Leaders

Thursday  – Working Group Share Outs, Team Planning Time, Closing Circle Friday  – Morning Departure

Friday – Morning Departure


School gardens have tremendous lifelong benefits for children. Research has shown that when children participate in a school garden program, they show marked improvement in healthy eating; social emotional skills; environmental attitudes; scientific achievement; and attitudes toward learning (

But school garden programs need support in order to unlock their full potential. Without well-trained educators, strong curriculum, and supportive networks, garden programs often become underutilized or even forgotten. With support, however, they thrive, become institutionalized into school cultures, and inspire children for decades.

Regional School Garden Support Organizations have emerged as a key determinant in the success of school garden programs across the country. This Institute is designed to provide SGSO leaders with the inspiration and information they need to effectively support school garden programs in their regions, and to share best practices with other SGSOs nationally.

View what took place at our 2019 School Garden Support Organization Institute.

View what took place at our 2018 School Garden Support Organization Institute.

View what took place at our 2016 School Garden Support Organization Institute.

Join the School Garden Support Organization Network E-list to be part of a national dialogue of school garden support organizations.

Hosted by Life Lab in partnership with Whole Kids Foundation

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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.
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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.
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