Sowing Change: Vanessa’s Impact on Youth and Gardens


Vanessa, a passionate advocate for outdoor education and sustainable living, has dedicated her career to teaching youth how to grow and cook their own food. Her journey began in 2015, fueled by a childhood interest that evolved into a lifelong commitment. Vanessa seized the opportunity to channel her enthusiasm into action, embarking on a fulfilling path that has left a lasting impact on the communities she has served.

In 2017, Vanessa joined Americorps and Education Outside, focusing on outdoor education. Her commitment to integrating food and cooking into garden education became evident during her tenure at Malcolm X, where she engaged students in hands-on learning experiences. The initial skepticism of students transformed into genuine interest as they discovered the joys of cultivating and preparing their own fruits and vegetables. Vanessa’s approach to curriculum development reflects her dedication to inclusivity. She actively involves communities in shaping the programs, ensuring they are culturally relevant. By incorporating culturally significant foods and flowers, such as collard greens and bok choy, Vanessa establishes connections to everyday life, fostering a deeper appreciation for the environment and diverse cultures. One standout success story involves a second-grade student who, despite initial behavioral challenges, demonstrated a profound understanding of plant cycles and pollination during free garden time. This moment exemplifies the transformative power of outdoor education on young minds.

In her role as Co-Executive Director, Vanessa takes pride in the organization’s emphasis on growing culturally relevant foods. The impact goes beyond the classroom, as students excitedly share their newfound knowledge and culinary skills with their families, building communities and connections. As a nature enthusiast, Vanessa practices what she preaches by engaging in gardening, exploring the outdoors during excursions, and trying local foods when traveling. This personal connection to nature influences her work and advocacy, reinforcing the importance of understanding and preserving the natural world.

Vanessa acknowledges the challenges she has faced in the field, including the volunteer-based and underpaid nature of outdoor education and the lack of diversity in the sector. Undeterred, she actively participates in cohorts supporting BIPOC women in outdoor education, creating a sense of community and empowerment. One particularly poignant moment in Vanessa’s career unfolded at Malcolm X, where a student found solace in the garden over five years. This transformative journey illustrates the profound impact nature and outdoor learning can have on a young person’s life, turning the garden into a safe space for emotional release and personal growth.

Vanessa’s story is one of dedication, resilience, and a profound belief in the power of outdoor education to shape and enrich the lives of young individuals and their communities.

(This blog post was written with the help of AI)