Life Lab Garden Classroom / "Food, What?!" Program

Images from the Life Lab Garden Classroom

Life Lab is an independent nonprofit that has had its headquarters on the UCSC Farm since 1988. Since its founding at a local elementary school in 1979, Life Lab has trained educators and preK–12 students in farm- and garden-based science, nutrition and environmental education and youth empowerment. In 2001 Life Lab and the Center collaborated to create the 2-acre Garden Classroom at the UCSC Farm to serve as a model educational garden and as a site for public outreach and training.

Since its founding, the Garden Classroom has become a popular destination for field trips, workshops, and tours, serving over 4,000 students and hundreds of educators and other visitors annually. UCSC undergraduate students interested in environmental education serve as field trip guides through Life Lab internships are offered through the Environmental Studies Internship Office.

Teachers, garden educators, and volunteers take part in educator workshops at the Garden Classroom to learn garden-based science and nutrition lessons they can take back to their own classrooms and school gardens. Many visitors come to see how a garden can serve as a living laboratory for effective standards-based education. Life Lab also develops leading garden-based learning curriculum resources and distributes them nationally and even internationally in more than a dozen countries.

Life Lab serves high school-age students through "Food, What?!", its youth empowerment program using food, through sustainable agriculture and health, as the vehicle for growing healthy, strong, inspired teens. "FoodWhat?!" staff members partner with low-income and at-risk youth from Santa Cruz and Watsonville to grow, cook, eat, and distribute healthy, sustainably-raised food and address food justice issues in the community.

Life Lab is also a leader in regional and national movements, facilitating the California School Garden Network and co-founding the National School Garden Network. In 2012 Life Lab and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers became statewide co-hosts for FoodCorps California. FoodCorps is part of the national AmeriCorps Service Network. The program trains teams of emerging leaders and sends them to underserved areas for a year of service, where they teach kids about what healthy food is and where it comes from, build and tend school gardens, and bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias.

For more information on Life Lab, visit their website,, or call 831.459-2001.