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Farming The Future Leadership – Tara Laidlaw

Tara Laidlaw has worked at the intersection of formal and informal education for nearly 15 years, serving as a program manager, instructional designer, and teacher trainer in a wide range of settings. After seven years as the director of an educational farm in Massachusetts, she returned home to the west coast, where she now specializes in helping place-based, project-based, and informal education programs support the Next Generation Science Standards.

Tara holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropological Sciences from Stanford University and a master’s degree in Natural Science and Environmental Education from Hamline University. In addition to her work in Oregon, she facilitates NGSS-focused workshops at regional and national conferences, and she writes articles about farm-
and garden-based learning for national publications.

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Farming The Future Leadership – Michele Madison

Michele Madison has been an educator specialized in working with at-risk youth and Title I schools for 7 years.

Since 2017 Michele has been a staff scientist for HSW Engineering, a Florida based environmental engineering firm. Through her passion for education and outreach, she developed partnerships with the major educational institutions in Tallahassee including Florida State University, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and Tallahassee Community College. In 2019 she joined Tallahassee Community College’s new Environmental Institute as an Agricultural Innovation Specialist. Helping lead the way in developing TCC’s agricultural department.


Early on in her career, Michele identified STEM access and food access as critical aspects of strong community development. Her previous awards in professional education, social entrepreneurship, and poverty alleviation demonstrate her active role in her professional community. The recipient of the Rueben Askew Progressive Leadership award, the NAAEE 30 under 30 Environmental Educator, Startup of the Year for Consumer Services for Women in Business, Girl Scouts recognized Woman of Distinction, a John E. Hughes entrepreneurial advocacy finalist, Energy Innovator Finalist, NSF Developmental Education Intern, the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award, BLAST Service to Science Education Award, and TCC’s Presidential Talon Award.

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Farming The Future Leadership – Emily Gaines

Emily Gaines spent a number of years teaching in the California public school system before leaving to pursue farming. As a credentialed teacher working in Title one schools she had become increasingly disillusioned with the traditional public school systems ability to reach the students who need the most help. Raising a son with severe learning disabilities she was personally aware of how significantly the school system can fail students who are not traditionally successful.

Emily earned her bachelor’s degree at California State University, Sacramento. As a farmer Emily has continued to find joy in teaching; working on the board of her local beekeepers association to encourage volunteers in the classroom, mentoring new growers as they embark on their own farming journey, writing guides and articles to help others grow. She is deeply committed to helping the next generation of agricultural enthusiasts to find their calling and their confidence.

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Farming The Future leadership – Meera Jagroop

Meera Jagroop is a museum educator specializing in science interpretation and exhibit design. During her ten years as a science educator, she has developed programs, interpretation, and exhibitions for all ages at Cleveland Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, The American Museum of Natural History, and Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Meera has represented institutions at conferences around the country, presenting on topics ranging from engaging caregivers of young learners to gardening programs for children with disabilities. She also participated in the design and oversees the new Discovery Garden, a one-acre, accessible, hands-on garden in Brooklyn, NY.

Meera has an M.S.Ed in Museum Education from Bank Street College of Education and B.S. in Natural History and Interpretation from SUNY-Environmental Science and Forestry. She currently lives in Brooklyn and is passionate about teaching about nature, botany, and gardening in urban environments.

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K-12 Gardening Activities

Once you get your garden going, it is important to visit it regularly to maintain healthy plants. It may be useful to create a weekly task chart for weeding and watering. However, there are many educational activities to do with your students once your garden is up and running.


How to make seed balls

Seed Balls are a clever way to start a garden or renovate a dull patch of land. Seed balls consist of potting soil, plant seeds, powdered dry clay, and water. The plant seeds can be multiple seeds of one plant or a variety, so long as they all grow well in the season you are planting in. First, you mix 1 ounce of seeds with 7 ounces of soil. Then, add 3 ounces of your clay. When it is all thoroughly combined, slowly add water until the combination turns into a paste that you can form into balls in your hands without falling apart. Let them sit for 24 hours

These balls can be randomly tossed out or strategically placed on your garden depending on your desired effect. Once they are outside in the dirt, they only need a bit of water to get them growing. These are an easy, hands on activity to complete in the classroom on a day when working in the garden is not an option. Also, they will give each student a sense of responsibility to look over their seed ball and encourage its growth.

It is important to remember that placing too many seeds in the mixture can cause overcrowding and impair the seeds’ growth. Also, although each ball has what it needs to grow, the placement of them outdoors can affect its success. Seeds need sunlight to germinate and require maintenance just like any other seeds.

These are also a great gift idea for the students to give to their guardians to take home a piece of their school garden to share with their family.


K-5 Gardening Activities


Follow the Life Cycle of Your Plants

Young kids who have never grown a garden may struggle to recognize the end goal or the importance of patience when growing things. Beginning with the seeds they planted either in the classroom or the garden, walk the students through every step the plant will undergo all the way up until it is ready to be eaten. This will help the students understand where their food comes from and what they have to look forward to.

Many young kids respond well to pictures, so include pictures of the plants, from a sprout to fully mature, so that they know what to look for in the garden and will be able to identify the plants without the garden markers. This activity will also help the kids to connect a healthy diet with the fun and sustainable activity of gardening.


6-8 Gardening Activities

Watch Flowers “Drink” Water

To help students understand the way a plant absorbs water, all you need are some white carnations, cups of water, and food coloring. Have the students place a few drops of food coloring into a glass of water until they have their desired color. Then, place a white carnation in the glass and wait! Check the plants every few hours, or set up a time lapse video to capture the magic. In about 24 hours your carnations will be the color of your food coloring.

This activity is to teach students the process of transpiration within the plant. This will help students to understand how a plant grows after watering the ground where it is planted. This activity can be done with K-5 students but because of the likelihood of spills, it may be best only for the teacher to have the flowers.


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Farming The Future Leadership – Carlos Villa

Carlos R. Villa has been developing and implementing science education programs since 2002. Included in these programs are field trips, summer camps, and student-scientist mentorship programs. In 2018 he earned the National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) Citation for Distinguished Informal Science Education, and in 2020 he was a finalist for Florida State University’s Employee of the Year.

Carlos was born in Managua, Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, Florida. He earned his BS from Florida State University in 2002, and earned his MS in Science Education in 2009. He works to inspire young learners of all backgrounds to pursue their dreams of careers in science and engineering and to increase diversity in science, particularly to get more women, African Americans, and Latinx students into physics.