Let’s Learn!

The annual NCYGS is entering its 31st year as the national model for youth gardening education. Leveraging a proven train-the-trainer model, the Symposium has cultivated thousands of educators across the country who return to their communities inspired, invigorated, and motivated to educate a new generation about the importance of gardening. 

Read on for descriptions of the 2023 Sessions that will be held in the University of Tennessee’s beautiful Student Union (in photo).

For questions about the Symposium, please contact Director of National Programs Courtney Allen at programs@ahsgardening.org / (703) 768-5700, ext. 121.

Session Block A: Morning Talks – Thursday, July 13 

Vocational Horticulture and Transition with Exceptional Students: Drew Horticulture Program
Michael Craig, Special Education Teacher/Horticulture Program Director, Detroit Public Schools Community District/Charles Drew Transition Center, 2023 American Horticultural Society Jane L. Taylor Award Winner 

This presentation details the innovative techniques designed to accommodate students with disabilities using differentiated methods and adaptive equipment carefully chosen to provide each student the opportunity to participate and gain valuable vocational horticulture skills leading to possible employment. Winner of the 2021 Grand Prize National Magna Award, this comprehensive program showcases the transition process through hands-on experiences producing food products for fine dining establishments in Detroit, retail outlets, food pantry donations and sale at our nation’s largest and oldest food hub, Eastern Market. We will highlight the techniques and plans for creating what is the nation’s largest Farm to School/Table program, including the development of corporate/educational partners to aid and maintain the program’s viability and sustainability, obtaining grant funds, and staff/community involvement. 

Bringing the Farm to School: Connecting Communities Through Gardens
Julie Brewer, Director, USDA FNS Community Food Systems Division 

Farm to school programs help bring more than local foods into the school cafeteria. From cultivating school gardens to teaching children about where their food comes from: kids win, schools win, and communities win. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Farm to School Program provides grants, training, and technical assistance to improve access to local foods in schools, childcare institutions and facilities, and summer meal sites. USDA’s Farm to School Grant Program is an important way to help initiate, expand, and standardize farm to school efforts, including developing edible education gardens for students.  

This session will explore the benefits of connecting your work with children and youth gardens to the school nutrition professionals in your community, and how doing so can strengthening your organization’s impact on children by linking growing food with developing healthy eating habits and supporting the local food system. This session will feature success stories and resources from various Farm to School grantees that have started, expanded, and sustained gardens and agricultural education opportunities that have made impacts in their communities.  

Teaching Communication and Interpersonal Skills Through Youth Horticulture Programming
Anna Duncan, Extension Specialist- Digital Certification and Training Programs, University of Tennessee Extension 

Youth programs are called upon to teach a variety of subjects, including STEM, art, and communication. Teaching all these subjects at once can seem daunting, but it can be done when the topics are interwoven throughout the program. Thankfully, horticulture readily lends itself to this curricular weaving. In this session, we will use the Tennessee 4-H Root Curriculum, which explores plant propagation and related STEM topics while simultaneously providing participants with opportunities to develop their communication and interpersonal skills. We will investigate how this curriculum uses horticulture as an educational vehicle for other topics and how those same strategies can be used in other programs. 

Sparking Curiosity with Plant Heroes
Jeanette Henderson, Plant Protection Program Coordinator, American Public Gardens Association
Tyler Hale, Plant Protection Program Manager, American Public Gardens Association 

Want to get kids curious about plants and forest health? Plant Heroes, a program of the American Public Garden Association in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, empowers K- 5th grade educators with free high quality educational resources. Join presenters to learn more about Plant Heroes lesson plans, journals, activity books and comics available in English, Spanish, and Simplified Chinese. Participants will use one of our journals in this hands-on session creating plant mandalas. We will share ideas about how to best incorporate these materials into programing. Attendees will receive educational materials and information on how to access more digital or printed materials for free. 

Engaging Learners through Theme Gardens
Mary Helen Butler, Assistant Director, Memphis Botanic Garden
Gina Harris, Director of Education and Events, Memphis Botanic Garden 

This session will demonstrate how theme gardens and their related activities can teach botanical principles and conservation practices in an immersive way that makes learning memorable. Memphis Botanic Garden staff will share how their educators and horticulturists have worked together for over a decade to develop themed seasonal displays and corresponding programming in their children’s garden. This session will take participants through ten different themes and how they were interpreted with creative plantings, props, and interactive components. We will also share activities from the related family events, summer camps, and drop-in programming. There will be a special focus on how these ideas can be replicated on any scale by informal educators working in a variety of settings, including classroom teachers.   

Planting Ideas…Harvesting Success!
Chris Fleming, State Coordinator, Tennessee Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom 

Guided by the USDA, Agriculture in the Classroom began in the early 1980s. Since that time, it has grown from a grassroots idea to a blossoming network of teachers, volunteers, industry partners, and university contacts. During this session, we will look at the matrix for lesson plans that can be adapted for your specific area; identify the AITC program director in your state; and connect you with other like-minded educators across the country. We will also discuss available grants from the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization, as well as state organizations and the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture.  

Celebrating Culture in the Garden
Noel Nicholas, Educational Content Manager, KidsGardening 

KidsGardening is launching a new webinar series Culturally Inclusive Teaching in the Garden during the first half of 2023. It will convene garden educators from across the country to share how their programs celebrate and center culture with children. This lecture will provide an opportunity to hear major takeaways from the series, as well as concrete examples of successful and joyful activities and programs that educators can implement in their own gardens to build a stronger and more inclusive garden community. 

Universal Learning in Gardens and Natural Spaces
Liani Yirka, Education Program Coordinator, Sarah P. Duke Gardens 

Universal Design for Learning guidelines aim to create learners who are purposeful, motivated, resourceful, and knowledgeable, as do most garden education programs. Some gardens and outdoor spaces are considered inaccessible for students with disabilities, and groups self-select away from visiting gardens for their EC classrooms or for students with disabilities. But gardens and natural spaces celebrate the diversity of life and are an ideal place to welcome and include diverse learners. Spend time discussing how to leverage universal design for learning when creating or modifying your educational programs in gardens and natural spaces. Participants will gain more in-depth knowledge of what universal design for learning entails, hear about community partnerships that have worked to strengthen learning for students with disabilities within a garden setting, and brainstorm ways to create more accessible and inclusive programming in gardens.

Session Block B: Afternoon Workshops – Thursday, July 13 

Anti-Racism and Garden-Based Learning
Scott Morrison, Associate Professor of Education, Elon University
Dani Toma-Harrold, Graduate, Elon University 

Racism is deeply embedded in the U.S. education system – even in garden-based learning. An antiracist approach to garden-based learning provides opportunities for students to deepen learning, enhance engagement, and make connections to each other and their community. In this interactive session, participants will learn how to approach garden-based learning through an antiracist lens to support and celebrate all students, while also addressing inequities in education broadly. We will cover topics like curriculum, instruction, assessment, language, and behavior. You will leave with a better understanding of how to center antiracism so that all students have opportunities for mattering, healing, freedom dreaming, and transformative learning. 

Social Emotional Learning in the Garden
Amy Bowman, STEM Education Extension Associate, Plants for Human Health Institute
Doug Vernon, Extension Assistant, Plants for Human Health Institute 

Social emotional learning (SEL) goes beyond core academic areas to help students identify their feelings, understand and communicate with others, build strong relationships, and make empathetic decisions. Research has shown that SEL not only improves behaviors such as kindness and empathy, but it can also improve achievement. The school garden is the perfect place for SEL. We will explore the five key areas of SEL and how they relate to the outdoor classroom. Participants in this session will learn how to incorporate social emotional learning strategies into the school garden or outdoor classroom through hand-on activities.  

From A(rborist) to Z(oo Horticulturist): Horticulture Career Exploration Summer Camp
Kathleen Salisbury, Director, Ambler Arboretum of Temple University 

The horticulture field offers an amazing diversity of careers; exploration programs can expose students to these possibilities and connect them with relevant professionals and mentors. In this session, participants will learn about the horticulture career summer camp offered by the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University. We will discuss camp planning, topics, and activities, followed by small group discussion for participants to brainstorm career exploration program possibilities. You will leave with ideas and plans for getting started. 

How I Quit Panicking and Learned to Love Grant Writing
Kelly Sauskojus, Education Coordinator, Knoxville Botanical Gardens 

There are many grants that support garden education – but how do you choose the right ones for your project or institution? How do you identify the kinds of support your institution needs, and select which projects or partnerships to pitch to particular granting agencies? How do you write convincing and winning proposals – while also navigating all the technical paperwork? In this hands-on grant writing workshop, we will share best practices for each step of the process and take time for participants to practice each step and receive feedback from each other. Participants can expect to leave with a realistic understanding of how to write grants collaboratively and some of their own writing they can use to kickstart their next grant cycle. Bring your laptop and prepare to brainstorm, web search, and write!  

Fun with Food in the Classroom (and Beyond!)
Maryl Burke, School Gardens Coordinator, CAC Beardsley Community Farm
Sarah Heizenroth, Education Coordinator, CAC Beardsley Community Farm
Amber Ford, Public Health Planner, Knox County Health Department 

Food is a great tool to help students stay excited and engaged by using all their senses. In this hands-on workshop, participants will learn best practices for food-based activities in the classroom or garden, including strategies for tasting foods with students, helping students become more comfortable with new foods, preparing foods safely, and preparing recipes in less-than-ideal environments. We will engage in hands-on activities that demonstrate how to involve students in food preparation and discuss the many ways food can link to classroom standards. This session will build your confidence to integrate food and cooking into your work with students of all ages. 

Ecology of Practices: Resourcing Our Learning Communities in Regenerative Futures
Mallory Craig, Greenhouse Education Center Manager, The Horticultural Society of New York
Georgia Faulkner, Senior Director of Partnerships, Programming and Public Space, The Horticultural Society of New York
Rosa Karim, Educator, The Horticultural Society of New York 

Part curricular toolkit, part collaborative resource share, this workshop is an interactive space to support facilitators to teach at the intersections of regenerative agriculture and art. Participants will learn how principles of regenerative agriculture can also be applied to working with youth to foster cultural equity into their learning ecosystems. This workshop equips educators with curriculum used across the Horticultural Society of New York’s therapeutic horticulture, education, workforce development, and public programs around the themes of art and agriculture. Together, we’ll begin to answer the question: how do we uplift culture of our agricultural system? Participants will learn tangible facilitation practices rooted in healing by exploring popular education models, circle-keeping, and asset-based cultural organizing work and leave the workshop with several lesson plans they can use to immediately implement into their programs.   

Session Block C: Afternoon Workshops – Friday, July 14 

Culturally Responsive School Gardens and Self Determination: Theory and Practice
Moses Thompson, Director, University of Arizona School Garden Workshop 

School gardens have the power to work as a gateway for local knowledge to flow into schools and to amplify the voices of traditional knowledge holders. School gardens can also root youth in the nuance of ecoregional seasonality and ecology, fostering a love of both self and place. When this happens, learners see themselves reflected in the programming and intrinsic motivation is harnessed. Youth develop a lifelong connection to learning and see themselves as agents of change.  

In this session, team members from the Tucson Unified School District and the University of Arizona School Garden Workshop will present participants with a framework for culturally responsive school garden programming through the lens of Self Determination Theory. Participants will receive and analyze an ecoregional school gardener’s almanac, hear from contributors, and engage in a hands-on activity from the publication. Finally, attendees will workshop potential content ideas for the ecoregions they represent.  

Grant Funding for Youth Garden Programs: Advice from National Grantmakers
Sarah Lane, Program Director, KidsGardening
Stephanie Porto, Senior Program Director, Whole Kids Foundation
Laura Thompson, Director of Strategic Alliances, Big Green
Liz Morris, Senior Manager of Hydroponics, Green Our Planet 

Grant funding can be a great way to jumpstart a youth garden program! Have you wondered which organizations offer grant funding to start or expand youth gardens? Or what information is needed to submit a grant application? Or how to write a compelling grant application? This workshop will feature a panel discussion of national youth garden grantmakers to learn about their upcoming grant opportunities and to hear their thoughts on what makes a strong grant proposal.  

We will dig into the fundamentals of grant writing, from determining eligibility to common application questions, using KidsGardening’s grants as an example. Next, we will focus on how to make a grant application stand out by writing a compelling case statement or narrative. In the workshop, you will have the opportunity to ask questions to national grantmakers and draft responses to grant application questions, and you will leave with resources and tools on grant writing and upcoming funding opportunities. 

Grow Thriving Gardens and Kids: Learn, Grow, Eat & GO!
Randy Seagraves, Curriculum Coordinator, National Junior Master Gardener Program 

This session will equip you to effectively implement the popular Learn, Grow, Eat & Go (LGEG) curriculum with your elementary class. Created by teachers, this multifaceted school garden curriculum is fun, academically rich, and research based. Through lessons with hands-on activities, you can guide your students to establish a thriving garden that is easy to create and maintain. This session will also demonstrate student-led & maintained garden installations and feature strategies for building sustainable, teacher-friendly school garden programs.  

Growing a Youth Agricultural Economy
Jenny Totten, Strategy and Impact Officer, Future Generations University
Meredith Miller, School Farm Manager, West Virginia State University
Karrina Finley, Student, Mountview High School- McDowell County Schools 

Learn how to build your own sustainable agriculture enterprise with team members of the McDowell County Youth Producers Association, headquartered in southern West Virginia.  Through a community development process known as SEED-SCALE, based on the United Nations development process, members will illustrate how they are taking the first steps to create an agricultural economy that feeds the community while employing youth deep in the heart of Appalachian coal country.  

Examine your own assets and challenges during this hands-on workshop session while you build your plan to engage your school or community in agricultural entrepreneurship activities. Leave with your plan as well as tips, tricks, and tools to work across sectors to build a successful program. This session is appropriate for teachers, community leaders, school and community garden managers, or anybody wishing to engage youth in a leadership pipeline to create more agricultural careers in their communities.   

Sticks and Stones Will Teach You Math!
Deborah LaBelle, Program Manager- Food Forests for Schools, The Education Fund
Eduardo Recinos, Senior Program Manager- Food Forests for Schools, The Education Fund
Scott Morrison, Associate Professor of Education, Elon University 

This interactive workshop explores nature to teach K-5 mathematics content and skills through activities designed to engage students in meaningful, experiential learning. For example, teach students how to measure and compare the sizes of different plants and trees in the school garden or nearby park, and use these measurements to calculate ratios and proportions. Using natural materials such as sticks, stones, and leaves to create geometric shapes and patterns, students explore the properties of these shapes. This workshop will prepare you to provide students with real-world mathematical learning opportunities that develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Nature is a teaching tool that encourage a sense of curiosity and wonder and helps students to see the beauty and relevance of mathematics in their everyday lives. 

Gardens as Therapeutic Learning Spaces
Stacey Shriner, Program and Education Director, Alaska Botanical Garden 

Gardens are not only spaces to grow flowers and food. With careful intention, they can become healing spaces that promote social, emotional, and physical well-being for youth and adults. Participants will be guided through examples of physical movements (incorporating yoga) inspired by plants to teach focus and awareness of self and space. They will also take part in a tea-making ceremony learning which herbs can affect our mood and energy levels. Finally, participants will take time using their senses to facilitate conversation around emotions we experience from different smells in nature. 

A Creative Spin on Botany and Horticulture Assignments in School
Cecilia Campbell, Science Teacher and Garden Educator, BioTECH High School, Miami, FL 

Plant science can be a tricky subject to teach in school. Adults realize it provides endless opportunities, but it also has the potential to be science-heavy and dry. The beauty and mysterious adaptations of plants, how they grow and feed us are not always obvious. Opening students’ eyes to the plants around them brings the sense of wonder to the classroom. As teachers, we should strive to make them realize the ways plant thrive and interact with the environment, and how we can use them to our advantage.


This workshop will share possibilities for incorporating and emphasizing creativity in plant-centered classroom assignments. Activities can be adapted to all age groups, learning styles, abilities, and class sizes. 

Together, we will outline creative process frameworks and offer project-based examples for observation and evaluation. Participants will then experiment with sample assignments to explore their own creative processes, followed by collaborative discussion. You will leave with a variety of innovative approaches to incorporate art and other subjects, and encourage creative student learning.

Session Block D: Morning Talks – Saturday, July 15  

Master Gardener TK-8 Curriculum Aligned to Next Generation Science Standards
Kim Coon-Leonard, School Coordinator, UCCE Master Gardener Program of Riverside County

In this talk, UCCE Master Gardeners of Riverside County, California will share their curriculum integrating online lessons with outdoor garden experiences. These lessons, which participants can easily add to their toolbox and implement, use the outdoors as a living laboratory to explore science phenomena. The framework and content are researched by Master Gardeners and written by educators using national Next Generation Science Standards, and the lessons provide TK-8 garden science instruction that requires minimal teacher-preparation time while offering maximum student engagement. The curriculum currently impacts 23 school districts and more than 423,000 students. Participants will receive an overview of the components of these lessons through active participation in and exploration of the TK-8 lesson series: Phenomena of Pollination. Participants will receive guidance on how to access these free lessons, and information on the process used to research and develop these lessons. 

Farmpreneurs: Cultivating the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs with School Gardens
Christy Carlson, Senior Manager of School Garden Programming, Green Our Planet
Diana Marutyan, Garden Educator, Green Our Planet 

We all know that school gardens provide exceptional STEM learning opportunities for students and create curiosity and wonder for people of all ages. But your school garden can also be the perfect real-world experience for K-12 students when it comes to financial literacy, business, entrepreneurship. In this session, you’ll hear inspiring stories from student “farmpreneurs” in Las Vegas, NV who created business plans, marketed their produce, and created revenue for their school garden programs at the Green Our Planet’s Giant Student-Run Farmers Market, which takes place twice a year.  

You will learn a comprehensive plan for your students to turn your school garden into a full-blown business through farmers markets. From harvesting, storing, and transporting produce to pricing, marketing, and making profits, students will be proud of the real business they created with their own school garden. And a bonus for teachers, we’ll discuss the financial literacy standards that are covered when using your school garden as a financial literacy learning tool. 

It Takes a Village: Tapping into Your Local Gardening Community
Pam Hosimer, Master Gardener, University of Maryland Extension 

Learn how to create a sustainable gardening program with strong ties to your community. You will hear examples about how to make local connections and create partnerships that will be mutually beneficial to all. We will share tips on working with Master Gardeners, your Farm Bureau, and local environmental agencies. You will also learn how to increase the diversity, equity, and inclusion of your gardening program by utilizing state and national resources that are readily available in other languages.  

Gardening with Children with All Abilities
Julie Hudak-Salvat, Horticultural Specialist, Special Kids Special Families 

This talk explores gardening with children of all abilities, focusing on adaptations for sensory, cognitive motor, vision, hearing, and emotional challenges in an early childhood setting. We will offer techniques and collaboratively build ideas for participants to develop inclusive gardening experiences for their students with differing abilities. 

Introducing Young Children to Gardening Without a Garden
Jane Hirschi, Founding Director, CitySprouts 

In this session, participants will experiment with two of the gardening activities designed for 3-5 year olds as outlined in CitySprouts’ new book, We Garden Together (Storey Publishing, 2023). The book’s activities are designed for teachers and parents to introduce young children to nature and gardening, using simple materials that can be easily found outside the home/school or in a neighborhood grocery store. Access to a garden not required! Each activity includes prompts for young children’s deep thinking and wondering about the world around them. Participants will also learn about CitySprouts, the hands-on science education program in Boston and Cambridge public schools that reaches students in over 350 classrooms.