About a week ago, I returned from Madison, WI, where the American Horticultural Society held the 27th annual National Children and Youth Gardening Symposium. The theme of this year’s conference was Building Blocks for a Sustainable Future. As a first-time attendee and presenter, I was thoroughly impressed with the range of thematic topics and events. In this blog post, I’ll give a play-by-play of daily highlights.
Day One: School Garden Support Organization Dinner
Hosted by Life Lab, this event convened over 50 participants from organizations that oversee program implementation at more than one site. For several years, they’ve held events at conferences, an annual leadership institute, and curated resources in an open-source Google Group. Visit the SGSO Network website for best practices that build capacity to sustain multiple school gardens.
Day Two: School Garden Visits
After a morning of informative sessions, participants boarded school busses for excursions around the Madison area. I opted for the school and youth garden tour, which took us to four exemplary teaching sites:
- Goodman Youth Grow Local Farm (est. in 2010 and run by Community Groundworks);
- Badger Rock Urban Farm, cared for by the Center for Resilient Cities and serving the surrounding community with a pop-up market stand, charter school, and cultural enrichment programs.
- Lapham Elementary, the oldest school garden in the area that keeps growing thanks to the Garden and Green Team; and
- Spring Harbor Middle School, a public magnet which houses a student-constructed greenhouse and environmental monitoring program.
Day Three: Pashon Murray Keynote
What a thrill to hear, meet, and pose with Pashon Murray, founder of Detroit Dirt. Whitney Cohen and I could not contain our smiles as Pashon described her spiritual journey that led to creating waste solutions while propping up economic, environmental, and social conditions in one of our nations’s forgotten cities. She’s earned notoriety and awards for her groundbreaking (or, more appropriately, ground building) work that seeks social justice through a low-carbon economy and climate resiliency.
Day Four: Growing Strong School Gardens
As an educational researcher, I always appreciate sessions that build the evidence-base for school garden work. In her talk, Amy Hoover detailed a rigorous survey approach to identifying the sixteen most common barriers to school garden sustainability and effective strategies for overcoming these obstacles in 100 schools in Austin. The most remarkable facet of this talk is that the study was commissioned by the City of Austin in an effort to evaluate citywide garden landscape sustainability.
The primary reason I attend conferences is to solicit peer input about how I implement evidence-based practices to sustain school gardens in the 21st century. My presentation, Dirt Girls to the Rescue! Gender Equity and Empowerment, was well received by a generous audience that included an 11-year old dirt girl! I also shared some ideas about Bonding with Youth Birders. For a detailed description of these talks, visit my website.
It’s alway a treat to visit my home state, but when coupled with a fantastic opportunity like the NCYGS, I feel even more fortunate to network with likeminded school garden enthusiasts.