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Conference offers youth perspective on gardening programs

The National Youth Voices Conference, set for Oct. 2-3 at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen, Minn., will focus on youth gardening programs and their effectiveness -- from the perspective of some of the youths involved.

CHANHASSEN -- Put a kid in a garden and watch what grows! A bountiful harvest of self-esteem, responsibility, love of nature and positive work ethic, are just a few of the amazing bumper "crops."

Youth gardening programs and their effectiveness -- from the perspective of the youths themselves -- will be the focus of the national Youth Voices Conference on Oct. 3, at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen. The conference runs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and there also are optional pre-conference activities planned Oct. 2.

The Youth Voices Conference is being planned entirely by a team of local young adults who together have accrued 66 summers in the Urban Gardens and CityFresh gardening programs coordinated by the Arboretum's education department.

Typically, youth-gardening programs are seen as tools to help build skills, increase knowledge and improve the vitality of the community. Yet too often, they are designed without consulting the participants themselves.

"This is a unique conference because it turns the tables on us adults. We are used to getting ideas from each other when designing and planning garden activities for youth, discussing what works and what doesn't and what we think youth like best. In the case of this conference, it is our job to sit still and listen and let the youth tell us what they think," said Tim Kenny, Arboretum education director and a leader in the youth gardening movement.

"We adults also make assumptions about what youth will learn from spending time in a garden setting and based on what I've heard from the conference organizers, we are right in some of our assumptions, but there is also learning going on that I had no idea was happening," he continued.

"I think the youth presentations at the conference will reveal some valuable lessons that we adults were totally unaware of - from race relations to thinking about future careers to understanding what teamwork means. Imagine if we adults used this information to plan activities with the intent to teach exactly those lessons. That is the kind of thing that can truly increase the impact of what we do," he continued.

In addition to youth from the Twin Cities, this first-ever national conference will feature presentations from youngsters involved in gardening programs in Cleveland, New York City and Chicago, as well as several other Twin Cities programs, thanks to presenting sponsor Best Buy's @15 program.

Also speaking will be national expert Marcia Eames-Sheavly of Cornell University's Garden-Based Learning Institute.

The conference is geared for professionals and laypersons involved in garden-based programs, grant-funding organizations, researchers, educators and school board members, Master Gardeners, extension services, interested youth and more.

Students and teachers/practitioners can register at a special discounted rate of $30 per day or a $15 for Saturday only (if you provide your own lunch). This special rate is available only on phone orders (call 952-443-1422).

For other attendees, the registration fee for the Saturday, Oct. 3, conference is $60 for Arboretum members and $70 for others, and for the Friday, Oct. 2, pre-conference activities, $50/$60. Fee for both days is $110/$130. Register at