Staff

City Schoolyard Garden Team

Jeanette Abi-Nader, Executive Director (jeanette@cityschoolyardgarden.org)

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@cityschoolyardgarden.org)

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.

Jordan Johnson, Program Coordinator (jordan@cityschoolyardgarden.org)

Jordan officially came on board as Program Coordinator in May 2017. He was born and raised in Rochester, NY and moved to Charlottesville in April 2017. Jordan has always been involved with planting and growing. Even on their tiny city lot growing up, his mother found a way to grow pumpkins, sunflowers, roses, and herbs. Jordan earned his masters degree in Public Administration from SUNY The College at Brockport, where the majority of his work focused on engaging the community and schools, emphasizing garden-based learning. Before leaving upstate New York, Jordan led a project to create a garden program at a day rehabilitation program for individuals with developmental disabilities. He is excited to be a part of the City Schoolyard Garden team and engage Charlottesville’s youth.

Joshua Rene, Outreach Consultant (hello@joshuarene.com)

Joshua is our new Outreach Coordinator, and he’s already diving into new projects for CSG! Joshua’s philosophy is that serving people begins with serving how they think, which he learned in his 13 years of leadership in human services. As a creative consultant, he works to bring out the best in others and their businesses, as well as point out and work towards growth opportunities. Since growth is what we do here at CSG, Joshua will fit right in. Equally comfortable in a boardroom and a classroom, with adults and with youth, Joshua will be doing vital outreach work, both by spearheading youth programs and strengthening relationships with our community partners. He is also an adjunct instructor at Piedmont Virginia Community College.

Mary Anderson, Development Coordinator (mary@cityschoolyardgarden.org)

As of May 2017, Mary is our new Development Coordinator. She graduated from UVA with a BA in Psychology and, following a 3-month attempt at a thru-hike of the AT, spent several years working in the field of mental health. For a brief time “back home” in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern VA, and then for a few more years back in Charlottesville, she engaged youth in the home and in school before moving into parenting education and environmental stewardship.  A need for health insurance to support her roller derby habit forced Mary to spend the next decade in the for-profit world learning about project management and becoming a spreadsheet geek before finding her place with CSG.  Mary developed a green thumb through haphazard urban gardening trial and error on an extremely small but fertile lot in the city.  She is excited to see how well she fares on a larger lot with chickens, with guidance, of course, from the great teachers at CSG!

Garden Coordinator Consultants

Peter Davis, Garden Coordinator at Charlottesville High School (chs@cityschoolyardgarden.org)

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.

Matthew Darring, Garden Coordinator at Burnley-Moran Elementary  (burnleymoran@cityschoolyardgarden.org)

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 (clark@cityschoolyardgarden.org) and at Jackson-Via Elementary (jacksonvia@cityschoolyardgarden.org)

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 (greenbrier@cityschoolyardgarden.org)

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 (johnson@cityschoolyardgarden.org)

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 (venable@cityschoolyardgarden.org)

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.

Nicholas Shahbaz, Garden Coordinator Associate (garden@cityschoolyardgarden.org)

Nick joined City Schoolyard Garden in April 2017, after graduating from UVA in 2016 and spending some time teaching and working in hydroponics. He studied Creative Writing, and brings a storytelling approach to crafting CSG’s promotional materials and updates. Nick cultivated a sizable garden with his family for years, and is looking forward to sharing horticultural knowledge with the other Garden Coordinators and their classes. As the floating Garden Coordinator, he will assist the other GCs and oversee inter-garden programs. Nick’s goal is to promote sustainability as well as local, “slow” food, both to improve nutrition and curtail the environmental impact of feeding ourselves.

Meet our Board of Directors