2019 Speakers

Naomi VolainNaomi Volain

Plant Locally, Grow Globally

Explore how your student’s Schoolyard Garden work is part of global education, citizenship, and Earth’s sustainability. Schoolyard Gardens are a microcosm of personal, health, and social emotional learning with far-reaching implications. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Education provide a framework for the rich lessons of Schoolyard Gardens.

Naomi Volain is the producer of Plants Go Global, a project driven to make plants an answer to Earth’s sustainability challenges. Plants Go Global seeks ways to connect people with plants to do something about climate change. Plants Go Global supports plant awareness, action and education and seeks to eradicate plant blindness.

As a high school Botany and Environmental Science teacher in Massachusetts, plant science became the framework for Naomi’s teaching, evolving from the greenhouse next to her classroom. Here students experimented with plants, guided by scientist mentors in the Botanical Society of America’s plantingscience program. Naomi made sure that students grew their own personal plants as a way to connect them to nature, nurture, and science.

All her classes featured hands-on, interactive methods and focused on environmental literacy. With deep experience teaching diverse students, Naomi taught by doing authentic science - labs, experiments, research, and fieldwork. Outdoor education ruled her methods - including citizen scientist fieldwork, 600 – 700 field trips including “walking” field trips right outside the school’s green space – lawns, farms, produce stores, botanical gardens, a corn maze, forests, caves, zoos, lakes, waste water treatment and municipal recycling facilities, and cemeteries for human population studies.

Naomi is involved in global education projects, with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals guiding her education philosophies. As a Top 10 Finalist for the million dollar Global Teacher Prize, she is a Varkey Teacher Ambassador. VTAs are all Finalists for the Global Teacher Prize, and she works with them with the shared purpose of making all students Global Citizens. She writes curriculum and supports many global initiatives. Believing in international harmony through sport, she volunteered at the Rio Summer Olympics supporting Women’s Basketball and volunteers for the upcoming Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 2028.  

Naomi also received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching for Massachusetts Science. She received the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Education, Honorable Mention, in addition to numerous state and regional awards. She’s honored by a plaque bearing her name, hung by the now renovated greenhouse at Springfield Central High School. She is a Reader researcher at the Huntington Botanical Gardens.  

Originally from the East Coast, Naomi now lives in Pasadena, California. She holds Nutrition degrees from the University of New Hampshire (B.S.) and University of Bridgeport (M.S.). Her education and counseling work as Registered Dietitian Nutritionist includes the USDA Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. She was a finalist for NASA’s Educator Astronaut corps, believing that space is the ultimate destination for learning. She holds a California Teaching Certification in Biological Sciences.


Naomi VolainAmy Mastin

Selected as the 2018 Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award for the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization and the 2018 Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom Outstanding Teacher Award, Amy Mastin is a middle school science teacher and has been teaching for 18 years. She was raised on a farm in southwestern Minnesota and values the farm to table knowledge she gained from that upbringing.

Rachel Gray  Rachel Gray

 A fourth-generation farmer from Blackduck, Minnesota, Rachel operates her beef cow-calf operation in Northern Minnesota with her husband and parents. She is also a Minnesota Ag in the Classroom Educator. 

Caroline Venis  Caroline Venis

 Caroline is the Greenhouse Coordinator at the Wadena Deer Creek School. Before starting at the Wadena Deer Creek School, Caroline was a Middle School Title 1 para for 9 years. Caroline and her husband, Tim, have a successful year round aquaponics greenhouse and market garden selling produce at a Farmers Market. Now, she has combined her love of helping students learn and gardening into the best job ever. Caroline and her husband live outside of Eagle Bend and have three grown children. When not in the garden, Caroline enjoys walking, baking and reading.




Maya Lemon  Maya Lemon

Maya is the Agriculture Specialist at Columbia Heights Public Schools where she runs the Blooming Heights Edible Schoolyard and Outdoor Classroom Program. In her work Maya uses garden and nutrition programming to introduce children and adults to the wonder, creativity, and excitement of hands-on learning. Maya has over 15 years of outdoor education experience and has taught social/emotional, academic, and skills based content in settings that vary from camps to wilderness expeditions to science centers. She is passionate about giving educators the tools to bring their students outside--integrating exploration and curiosity into student's daily experiences.


Gretchen Ambrosier  Gretchen Ambrosier

Gretchen is a 1998 graduate of the University of Minnesota and a 2003 graduate of St. Mary's University. She is an avid Golden Gopher and has spent the last three years working as the vice president of engagement at the University of Minnesota Alumni Association. Prior to her position at the U, she worked at Ronald McDonald House Charities and the American Red Cross. As someone who enjoys gardening and who believes in the education and outreach provided by the society, she is excited to join MSHS as executive director.

Gretchen lives in Shoreview with her two children, Lucy (12) and Owen (10), her husband Paul, who is an educator in the Anoka Hennepin School District and their dog, Wrigley. She spends much of her free time working in her garden, reading and staying physically active with running and boxing.

"Gardening has always been a part of my life," she says. "My parents and I spent many years working in our family garden and my grandmother's garden. I now spend time with my own children in our yard. There is nothing more satisfying than watching what you've planted together bloom into something beautiful."


Maria Brosofske  Maria Brosofske

Maria has held a passion for plants and art from a very young age. She is grateful to have had opportunities that inspired this passion, such as gardening with her father, drawing with Nana, and traveling. She is thrilled to be a new addition to the Minnesota State Horticulutral Society Team as the Garden in a Box program coordinator. She also currently operates wedding and event floral design out of her studio in Merriam Park, Saint Paul. She has worked in the floral industry as a designer throughout Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington DC for the past ten years. This experience in the floral industry, as well as her studies of Agriculture, Horticulture, Urban Planning and Design at the University of Minnesota, have helped to shape her unique perspective when it comes to working with plants. She aims to work organically, allowing the plants and flowers to become highlighted by their own beauty, all the while enriching the native environment. She enjoys working with plants under many facets, specifically teaching others the joy that comes from working with, understanding, and respecting our environments. Whether it is a design, ecological, cooking, or health standpoint, she utilizes the many ways plants and gardens help to enrich peoples lives and their surrounding communities.


Tom Bezek  Tom Bezek

Tom is a graduate of National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Minnesota Outward Bound, Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs as a trained Shinrin Yoku/ Forest Bathing Guide, and University of Minnesota with double major in Social Work and Therapeutic Recreation. 

Tom spent 37 years working in a Juvenile Residential Correctional Facility for Hennepin County, and after retirement was the Executive Director of We Can Ride - a therapeutic horseback riding program serving people living with disabilities. He is now retired and spends time outdoors conducting Shinrin Yoku walks at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and with his family of 4 adult children and 7 grandchildren.



Pair the Schoolyard Gardens Conference with

Garden to plate Conference

Garden-To-Plate Food Conference

Schoolyard Garden Conference Details

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Email: ArbEdu@umn.edu

Cancellation Policy: Registration cancellations must be made two weeks prior to class date in order to receive refund. A $5 processing fee will apply.