City Schoolyard Garden Staff

Jeanette Abi-Nader, Executive Director (

Jeanette Abi-Nader worked for a dozen years with the national food justice non-profit, the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC). CFSC co-founded the National Farm to School Network and was instrumental in the passing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. As CFSC’s Evaluation and Training and Capacity Building Director, Jeanette utilized multiple learning strategies to support the work of hundreds of organizations and funders. She authored publications on strategic evaluation design including Whole Measures for Community Food Systems, Community Food Project Indicators of Success, and Growing Communities Curriculum.  Jeanette is the former Board Treasure for the American Community Gardening Association, Vice President of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Board of Directors, and a founding member of the Growing Food and Justice for All initiative (GFJI). GFJI is a national network focused on dismantling racism in the food system. Jeanette is an experienced farmer, having launched the first community supported agriculture project in the state of Louisiana and as Director of Farms for Frontier Natural Products Co-op. She has a Masters of Science in Sustainable Systems/Agroecology and is a certified permaculture designer and instructor.

Emily Axelbaum, Youth Engagement Director-Buford Garden Educator (

Emily joined City Schoolyard Garden in June 2011 and brings over 10 years of experience working as an environmental educator to the organization.  In addition to managing the intensive program at Buford Middle School, Emily also directs the Educational Framework (RootEd) development, and provides organizational leadership around the program intern and summer programs. Emily holds a degree from the University of Maryland, College Park where she was a lead instructor for the UMD Outdoor Recreation Center, and after graduating went on to instruct for Outward Bound’s At-Risk Youth Programs in New Hampshire and Maine.  She has a certificate in regenerative design from the Ecosa Institute in Prescott, AZ, and worked as a farm apprentice at the Ecovillage Training Center on The Farm in Summertown, TN and at Conreu Sereny outside Barcelona, Spain.  Prior to joining CSG, she worked for the Student Conservation Association as the RiverSmart Schools In-school Educator in Washington D.C, where she focused on building teacher confidence and engagement in using the schoolyard as an extension of the classroom.  Outside of her work with CSG, Emily is also on the organizing team for the Blue Ridge Permaculture Network.

Kim Nguyen, Program Coordinator (

Kim joined City Schoolyard Garden in March 2016.  She received her Bachelors of Science degree in Geological Sciences, with an emphasis in Hydrogeology and Environmental Geology, from the University of Texas at Austin.  She has a diverse background in management, engineering and environmental consulting, public relations, and event and volunteer coordination.  She holds a Professional Geologist license in Texas.  Her passion for helping communities, tackling injustices, and working with children has led her to volunteer in a variety of capacities.  She traveled to Guatemala to install drinking water wells and to teach impoverished communities about health and good hygiene.  She has volunteered as a Teacher and Community Service Director at her church, as a Guardian Ad Litem with the CASA of Travis County program to advocate for abused and neglected children, and as a Coach and Event Coordinator for the Texas Science Olympiad.  She moved to Charlottesville in 2012 and pursued new career paths after entering motherhood.  She continues to be involved in the Virginia Science Olympiad as an Event Coordinator for the Regional and State level tournaments.

Shantell Bingham, Outreach Coordinator (

Shantell Bingham joined City Schoolyard Garden in August of 2016. She is a Double Hoo, recently graduating from the University of Virginia’s Master in Public Health program after finishing her bachelor’s degree in Global Public Health. While completing her studies, Shantell built strong relationships with various communities in Charlottesville. For two years she served as a Program Director of Madison House’s Bridging the Gap, a program which mentors refugee youth. While directing this program she mentored a group of kids from Tanzania and coached a girl’s U12 outreach soccer team of immigrant and refugee kids for SOCA. Shantell departed from directing Bridging the Gap after receiving the Dalai Lama Fellowship, which awarded her 10,000 dollars to co-found the organization called Growing for Change, an urban garden initiative which co-designs personal gardens for citizens living in public housing and low-income areas. As a Dalai Lama Fellow, Shantell received training in ethical leadership, collaborating across differences, designing ethical systems, and mindfulness. In addition, Shantell has conducted research on community development with the University of Cape Town in South Africa where she utilized participatory methods to co-design a new community center.

Peter Davis, Garden Coordinator at Charlottesville High School (

City Schoolyard Garden is pleased to introduce our new Garden Coordinator at Charlottesville High School. Peter and his family settled in Charlottesville in 2009 to reclaim their Virginian roots after living in Los Angeles and Charlotte, NC for several years.  He discovered a love of gardening while tending two small tomato plants in a patio garden at their apartment in Los Angeles.  Over the years, he started several small gardens at rental properties where they lived until they decided to buy a little more land in Stony Point in 2014 to take on a bigger garden, fruit trees, and chickens.  In 2012, along with a small group of teachers and students, he began the garden at Charlottesville High School where he has taught since moving to town.  He now teaches a Garden to Market class at CHS and is most happy when he either has a shovel, hammer, or chainsaw in his hand!  Peter hopes to expand on the foundation that the high school students have gained through CSG in their elementary and middle school experiences, giving students hands-on experiences and empowering them to grow their own food.


City Schoolyard Garden Elementary School Garden Coordinators Consultants

Matthew Darring, Garden Coordinator at Burnley-Moran Elementary  (

Matt has been a gardener since childhood, tending a fig tree at his family’s home and volunteering in the botanical garden in his hometown of Mobile, AL. After buying a house, Matt got back into gardening with a focus on edible landscaping as well as flowering plants and natives.  He had to unlearn a lot of the concepts that applied in sub-tropical Alabama, and learn how to garden in Central VA’s climate and heavy clay soil.  It is that constant learning and relearning, resting and regeneration, languishing and rejuvenation, that keeps Matt inspired in the garden. Matt’s daughter is a fourth-grader, and his son will enter Kindergarten in 2016.

Sarah Wayne, Garden Coordinator at Clark Elementary ( and at Jackson-Via Elementary (

Sarah is a lover of all things related to food.  She received her Bachelors of Science in Nutrition and Food Science with a minor in Plant Biology from the University of Vermont.  During her time in Vermont, Sarah worked on various farms in the area to learn more about the local food community and farming practices.  Sarah has experience working as a Farm-to-School Coordinator in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where she worked to connect schools and farms through food and education.  As a Garden Coordinator, she strives to nurture curiosity, build relationships, and foster a connection between children and nature through exploration, experiences, and play. 

Emily Anderson, Garden Coordinator at Greenbrier Elementary (

Emily is a landscape architect by training and has experience designing and building small residential projects.  She loves getting her hands dirty weeding and making, and has especially loved plants since childhood.  She also enjoys working with the produce of the garden, whether that’s just plain eating it, or preserving it for later via fermenting or canning.  As an amateur naturalist she might just know the name of that plant, insect, or bird that you spotted, and she loves to learn about anything you know about what we see around us!  She enjoys being outside and introducing the world to her own young children and is looking forward to working with kids and volunteers in the garden. 

Rick Harden, Garden Coordinator at Johnson Elementary (

By trade, Rick Harden is a craftsman and artist with over 15 years of experience working with reclaimed and archival quality material. He specializes in wood frames, shadow boxes, birdhouses, and other custom home goods. Rick’s interest in and commitment to gardening was fostered by both his extended family and his own children. Coming from a family with a long history of farming in south Georgia, the importance and joy of being able to serve your community through the sustainable cultivation of the land was instilled in him at a young age. After moving to Charlottesville, Rick connected with gardening in a much more personal way, through his own children’s enthusiasm. Rick is excited about the value in a schoolyard garden for the community, and glad to be a part of CSG.

Emily Koester, Garden Coordinator at Venable Elementary (

Emily is a postpartum doula, editor of search and rescue books and aspiring Master’s student at UVA School of Nursing. She loves spending time in nature, especially discovering its beauty and wonder with her children. She has experimented with a small backyard garden which attracted all sorts of animals – a lesson in coexistence! Emily and her children have enthusiastically volunteered in Venable’s garden and school grounds for the past six years.  She is excited to sustain a flourishing garden that will provide great learning opportunities, bringing the children outside to explore and learn about plants and the environment, to appreciate the garden’s products, and to get their hands dirty!  A native of Charlottesville (and a Venable alumna!), Emily hopes the garden at Venable will bring together students and families, teachers and staff, and the community to enjoy connection with nature and with each other.

City Schoolyard Garden Program & Organizational Interns

Courtney Fox, Intern (

Courtney graduated from UVA in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Music, but has spent the past three years transitioning into educational and developmental psychology research. As a research specialist at the UVA, she has completed program evaluations and in-depth examinations of both formal and natural mentoring. In August, she began a master’s degree program though the Curry School of Education in Educational Psychology and Applied Developmental Science. She is especially passionate about community building and engagement, the interaction between family and school contexts, and youth-adult relationships. Outside of work and class, Courtney enjoys engaging with her mentees through Computers4Kids by completing projects and going on adventures. As an intern with City Schoolyard Garden, she is looking forward to contributing to program evaluation and getting involved with the community.

Molly Golski, Intern (

Molly is from Norfolk, Virginia and is currently a fourth year at the University of Virginia. She is majoring in Global Studies: Environments and Sustainability with a minor in Anthropology. Molly developed a passion for local and sustainable agriculture after going vegan her second year of college. She worked on a farm over the summer, which further progressed her interest in making sustainable agriculture accessible on all levels. She is involved in Greens to Grounds, a student run CSA at the University of Virginia. Molly is also a DJ for UVA’s student radio, WXTJ. Molly worked as a Sustainability Advocate Leader and helped other students at UVA get involved in sustainable practices. Molly is looking forward to developing the skills and understanding needed to run programs such as City Schoolyard Garden and is very eager for the opportunity to engage with youth in Charlottesville!

Olivia Raines, Intern (

Olivia is from Salem, Virginia and has developed a love for the outdoors through growing up surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is a fourth year student at the University of Virginia majoring in Global Development Studies with a minor in African Studies. Olivia is involved in charity: water at U.Va., a CIO that raises funds to build sustainable water systems in developing countries. She is also passionate about the Charlottesville community, and enjoys volunteering at grassroots organizations such as Virginia Organizing, focusing on issues such as restoration of voting rights. Aside from her love of all things produce, Olivia is also interested in environmental stewardship, food justice, and urban agriculture, and wants to learn more about how striving toward food equity in Charlottesville can bring about social change. Olivia is excited to learn through CSG and to serve Charlottesville.

Alex Whisnant, Intern (

Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Alex Whisnant is entering his fourth-year at the University of Virginia studying Biology and Government. Alex developed a love for the outdoors through his participation with Boy Scouts of America throughout high school  and through his involvement in Alpha Phi Omega (APO), a co-ed service fraternity that does community service throughout the Charlottesville area. His desire to help educate the Charlottesville youth about the environment through hands-on learning and experience led him to CSG. This past semester his projects were quite varied and we are very fortunate that he will be joining us again as a CSG intern for the 2016/2017 school year! At UVA, Alex is also involved with Student Council, APO Service Fraternity and is a student DJ for WXTJ.

Meet our Board of Directors