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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3 days ago

Life Lab

As we all navigate the dynamics of distance learning education, Life Lab would like to offer support.

Check out our website for resources outlining the potential for outdoor learning spaces to provide "extra “classroom” space; allow for social distancing; and provide strategic and cost-effective tools for improving academic, mental and physical well being. #outdoorlearningspaces #outdooreducation #schoolgardens #lifelab #notallclassroomshavefourwalls #livinglaboratory #socialemotionallearning See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

Today’s Thankful Thursday shout out goes to our @pajarovalleyusd Partner Schools: Hall District Elementary, H. A. Hyde Elementary, Starlight Elementary, Amesti Elementary, Ohlone Elementary, Ann Soldo Elementary, & McQuiddy Elementary🌱We look forward to another school year of bringing learning to life through nature based education🌻#schoolgardens #lifelab #thankfulthursday #nature #education See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

Change is good and delicious #Blackberry #schoolgardens #outdoorlearning #LifeLab #gardeneducation See MoreSee Less

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4 weeks ago

Life Lab

We are grateful for the continued support from @newleafcmarket Life Lab is honored to have been chosen as a community non-profit benefactor of their Bloom Wellness products that are all organic, non-GMO, & gluten free. Our partnership reflects New Leaf Community Markets’ core values of education, environmental stewardship, and nutrition. #thankyouthursday #schoolgardens #lifelab #newleafcommunitymarket #gardensofgratitude See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

🌱Moment of the Month🌱

Life Lab Summer Camps are always a beautiful and nurturing way to share the interconnections of nature with children. Although our campers could not join us in the Life Lab Garden Classroom this summer, we wanted to make it possible for them to have fun at home! So our camp team assembled Summer Activity Care Packages full of materials, recipes, and advice for 225 children who had already registered for camp. They then carefully and lovingly hand delivered them to each family, occasionally getting to say Hi! from a safe distance, too.

"Thank you so much!! I have tears in my eyes. Thank you for pooling your ideas together for non-screen fun and learning opportunities. We can’t wait to dive in!
With much gratitude,"

We are grateful to each and every camp family for their kindness, generosity, and patience as we all navigated the new realities of this year. As a community, the camp families even donated more than $12,000 of their camp fees towards ensuring that Life Lab will continue cultivating children’s love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education during this challenging time.

While we cannot deliver care packages to everyone in our broader Life Lab community, we hope that our growing website will help families seeking simple, fun, nature based activities and healthy family recipes to enjoy together at home this summer!🌈🐝🌻🌞

#lifelabmomentofthemonth #mylifelab #lifelab #summercamp #summerfun #gardenbasededucation #gardenlife #garden See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

Our “Share Your Garden Saturday” video series continues with a sweet share from Emma Christie in the Life Lab garden at Starlight Elementary School in Watsonville🌸#shareyourgaredLL #school gardens PVUSD Food & Nutrition Services #LifeLab AmeriCorps See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

In love with our @reneesgardenseeds flowers❤️thank you Renee for years of support & providing seeds for Life Lab gardens. We appreciate you! #reneesgardenseeds #lifelab #outdooreducation #gardensofgratitude #schoolgardens See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

“Education is a practice of Freedom” #emancipation #juneteenth #americanhistory #blackhistory #teachablemoments See MoreSee Less

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2 months ago

Life Lab

Happy National Eat Your Veggies Day!😋🥕

To celebrate today we wanted to share some of our impacts this past school year. In our seven PVUSD Partner Elementary Schools, 98% of kindergarten, 1st and 2nd teachers reported that the Fall 2019 NGSS in the Garden programs improved their 1,900 students’ attitudes towards fresh fruits and vegetables, their emotional well-being, and their connection with nature.

Our Kids Cook presentation brought exciting hands-on cooking and healthy eating to more than 1,500 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at these schools, too, in January, February and March. In tastings surveys 72% of the children reported liking or loving the fresh, healthful foods they ate, with 63% said they were trying a new fresh produce item for the first time.

278 second-graders from our partner schools enjoyed hands-on learning in field trips to our Blooming Classroom this school year. 59% reported tasting new healthy food items for the first time in lesson-based tastings, and 70% said they loved or liked what they tasted.

We would also like to remind you to eat a rainbow 🌈🥗

A diverse and colorful diet nourishes a strong and healthy body. All fruits and vegetables contain different combinations of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. In addition, they contain phytonutrients, which give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors and also play a wide range of roles in keeping our bodies healthy.

Thank you to our partners and sponsors for making this work possible. @sagegardenproject @pvhealth @pajarovalleyusd
@unfi @foodcorps

#eatyourveggies #EatYourVegetablesDay #mylifelab #vegetables See MoreSee Less

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2 months ago

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Stock up your Garden Classroom

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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