These are the bios from our 2017 conference. We're leaving them up as examples for now. This page will be updated as this year's conference date approaches.
Andrew Nowak, School Garden Conference Keynote Speaker
Andrew Nowak recently stepped down as the Director of the National School Garden Program for Slow Food USA and was responsible for building capacity of nearly 150 Slow Food chapters to be partners in school garden projects.
For 12 years he was the co-director of Slow Food Denver’s Seed-to-Table School Food Program and developed protocols for Youth Farmers’ Markets and Garden to Cafeteria programs.
Since 2009, Andrew has been the District Partner for Denver Public Schools and Jefferson County Schools helping to source local fruits, vegetables and meats for the cafeterias, to develop scratch cooking and salad bars in schools, and the development of school farms to grow organic vegetables for school kitchens.
Andrew was appointed to the CO Farm to School Task Force in 2010 and headed up working groups on Farm to School Evaluation and Marketing.
On the National level, Andrew is a Hall of Fame Chef with Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program and was one of 6 chefs invited to the White House in 2010 to help develop the Chefs Move to Schools Program.
Andrew has been a culinary professional for over 30 years and earned his Ph.D. in Psychology/Neuroscience at the University of Iowa in 1991. Andrew and his vascular surgeon wife Lisa of 31 years are embarking on a new adventure on a 17-acre farm and building a Farm to Table Campus to create community around the growing, preparing and enjoying fresh local foods.
Cheresa Taing, the Schoolyard Habitat Program Coordinator with the Outside Las Vegas Foundation earned her B.A. in Environmental Studies at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Her interest in environmental sustainability encouraged her to work with the Food and Water Watch’s Take Back the Tap, UNLV’s Rebel Recycling and City of Las Vegas. In addition, she has served as a Research Associate with the Great Basin Institute and an AmeriCorps State Member. Cheresa, also, currently serves as a volunteer leader for Sierra Club’s Inspiring Outdoor Connections, where she leads nature outings for urban youth. On her free time, she enjoys arts & crafts and travel. Cheresa feels a deep connection to the outdoors - especially to the Mojave Desert - and has always been conscientious of protecting it. She is eager to contribute and share her love for nature through habitat restoration and outdoor education.
Jennifer Davis is a LIF teacher at Desert Oasis High School. She has taught students with intellectual disabilities in the Clark County School District for 16 years. She also worked as an educational computing strategist for 12 years. Jennifer is passionate about integrating a garden into her special education program.
I have worked in the Clark County School District for twenty-four years, fifteen as a classroom teacher and nine as an administrator. I have always loved how children are naturally drawn to nature and science. This is my second year at Roger M. Bryan Elementary School as their principal. The staff approached me shortly after I came aboard and expressed an interest in planting a school garden. We attended a workshop last May with the Desert Research Institute where we heard representatives from Green Our Planet and got the necessary connections to make it happen. This fall we began our journey into urban gardening! We have jumped in with both feet and our students, parents, and teachers are having a ball!
Al Mueller and David Heishman
David Heishman and Al Mueller are co-leaders of the school’s 3,300 sq. ft. garden and 3,200 sq. ft. fruit tree orchard at Helen Marie Smith Elementary. They cooperatively run a fourth and fifth grade after-school garden club and manage the garden year-round. David Heishman is the school’s 5th grade math teacher and Al Mueller is the school’s K-5 science specialist. Both have enjoyed gardening since childhood and are passionate about passing on that knowledge and love of gardening to future generations.
Cynthia Radley is currently the Government Grants Manager at Three Square Food Bank. With a Master’s degree in Education and a Certificate in Non-Profit Management, Cynthia has had extensive experience working with non-profits, churches and community collaboratives. Before moving to Las Vegas, she was the Executive Director of a non-profit in Southern California and was the Director of AmeriCorps programs which served children in the eastern Coachella Valley. She is also an experienced trainer and has given many trainings and workshops on various topics, including leadership, grant writing, conflict resolution, computer skills and team building. In addition, she teaches Grants Management at the University of Nevada Las Vegas Continuing Education Program.
Amber Smyer joined the Nevada Department of Agriculture as the agricultural literacy coordinator in 2014. Amber holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Agricultural Education from Utah State University and a Master’s of Public Affairs from Indiana University at IUPUI. Through her career in the field of agricultural education she works closely with teachers, students, agencies and partners to help prepare students for 200+ careers in agriculture; promotes Nevada’s vibrant food and agriculture industry; and works with teachers, partners and youth to help create a more agricultural literate population who can make informed decisions about their purchasing, health, and voting as it relates to food and agriculture.
Jenny Valdez is an AP Environmental Science and Geoscience H teacher at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts. She has a bachelor's degree in secondary education and a master's degree in school counseling. She has been gardening with high school students for 3 years. She is a finalist for the Heart of Education award.
Michelle is currently working as the PACE teacher at Liberty High School. It is a post secondary program for students with disabilities. This is their first year with the garden and it has been very successful. The school currently has 5 garden beds, a hanging strawberry vine, 2 grape trellises, and an herb spiral garden. Michelle is also the advisor for the garden club.
Joseph Berg is a UNLV Graduate Student studying Solar and Renewable Energy. He is Vice President of the UNLV Student Sustainability Council and is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Associate. In his free time he volunteers at Green Our Planet.
Presentation title - Sustainable Practices at UNLV and Implementation in Elementary Schools
Dr. Gwen Sharp is the Associate Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Nevada State College. She grew up on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma, where her family grew much of their own food. She later earned her PhD in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying U.S. agriculture. Dr. Sharp oversaw a recent Workforce Development Grant provided by the governor’s office to establish a vegetable garden and small fruit orchard at NSC; the college is the first in southern Nevada to use food grown on-site in the campus café. She also helped develop the curriculum for NSC’s new Certificate in Horticulture Science.
Lisa Cheplak is a Certified Health Coach. She received her certification at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and has had a long-time passion for health and wellness. Her nutrition education has equipped her with extensive, cutting-edge knowledge in holistic nutrition, health coaching and prevention. She works with clients to help make lifestyle changes and choose health-promoting ways that produce real and lasting results improving energy, balance, health and happiness. Lisa created the business, “The Healthy Family” (www.thehealthyfam.com), which assists families in creating nourishing lifestyles by guiding them through their health and wellness goals. Lisa also created the blog “More Broccoli, Please”! (www.morebroccoliplease.com) which encourages healthy eating for kids by getting them in the kitchen. Over the past 5 years she has taught nutrition workshops and cooking classes kids and adults. Lisa also teaches gardening classes to students at Staton Elementary School and teaches cooking and nutrition workshops with Green Our Planet’s Chef-to-School program. In addition, Lisa works with ZERO Level Fitness located at McCarran Airport as well as Thrive Health Bar and provides individual and corporate wellness workshops. Combining her overall expertise, experience and education, she provides solutions and lifestyle programs to help clients achieve optimal health.
Born and raised in Missouri, I moved to Tampa, Florida in 1997 to attend the University of South Florida. While at USF, I worked for the athletic department assisting with event production. After graduating with a B.S in marketing, I joined a multimedia and event production company, where I helped direct event presentation for dozens of Division I college basketball and football games, as well NFL games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. From there, I moved on to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where I was responsible for the planning and execution of all fundraising events. When my husband and I welcomed our first son, Gannon, in 2008, I became a full time stay at home Mom. In December 2009, we moved to Las Vegas when my husband accepted a job. Our family welcomed boy #2, Bauer, in 2010. My boys are now in 1st and 3rd grade at Staton Elementary. I am continually involved in their classrooms as well as other PTO events, such as the garden parent farmer program.
Amanda Becker is 32 years old and in her fifth year of teaching. She currently teaches second grade. She was born and raised in Southern California. She is the co-chair of the Staton Garden Club.
Catrina Peters, MS, RD is the School Nutrition Services Manager at the Nevada Department of Agriculture. She currently oversees all USDA funded Child Nutrition Programs in Schools in Nevada including the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, USDA Foods, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant Program, Nevada School Wellness Policy and the Special Milk Program. She is a Registered Dietitian and received her Masters degree in Foods and Nutrition from Purdue University.
Monica Lang is the proud principal of Lawrence & Heidi Canarelli Middle School in the Clark County School District. She has been an educator in CCSD for 18 years. This is her third year as principal of Canarelli. She is very excited to be part of this conference that supports students eating healthy, leafy greens. Canarelli reportedly has the highest number of students in the District eating at the school salad bar. We contribute this fact to the wide variety of choices available to students each day. The freshness and taste also keep students and staff coming back for more. Many Canarelli teachers, support staff, and administrators eat right alongside students at the salad bar. Mrs. Lang hopes to increase the number of students eating salad each year.
Karyn Johnson is a Community Based Instructor with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She works with teachers in school gardens and other outdoor education programs. She works with public, private and home school groups in Southern Nevada, and has lived in the Mojave Desert most of her adult life. She has a Masters degree in Science Education, a Bachelors in Education and an Associates degree in Urban Horticulture.
Meghan Feasel grew up in the Midwest, the Central Ohio area to be exact, where she passed farms on her way to middle and high school every day. Her interest in gardening was instilled in her by her grandfathers – one who liked to see how many different flower varieties he could plant and the other who liked to see how many vegetables he could grow. The highlight of her summer would be going to the Ohio State Fair – sometimes multiple times each year. In fact, before moving to Las Vegas in 2013, a trip to the fair was what she did the day before her big move. She knew she wanted to be a teacher as far back as kindergarten when her teacher would always have to tell her to stop helping the other students because she wasn’t getting her own work done. Meghan enjoys incorporating her love of gardening with her passion for teaching in the outdoor garden space made possible by the donors of Bank of Nevada and the Law Firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Her students have been able to incorporate, math, science, reading and writing into their outdoor garden activities while learning how to cultivate different kinds of vegetables, some of which they have never tasted. Meghan is a 2013 graduate of Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana and earned her Master’s Degree in Advanced Teacher Leadership with a concentration in Teaching English as a Second Language from Sierra Nevada University in 2016.
I am a UNLV undergraduate student pursuing a bachelor's degree in Biology and a minor in Anthropology. My career goal is to be a wildlife conservation biologist. I am co-president of Student Sustainability Council at UNLV.
Emily Ellis is an Associate in Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s Las Vegas office and a member of the Litigation Department. Emily focuses on complex commercial litigation and has litigated before the United States Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Nevada Supreme Court, the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, and the Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County Nevada – Civil and Family Division. She has appeared before and argued in front of the Nevada Supreme Court. She is the Las Vegas chairperson of the firm's Karma Committee, a firm-wide committee focused on community relations and involvement, including the firm’s partnership with Bank of Nevada and Green Our Planet. In addition to facilitating charitable giving events, Emily is passionate about offering pro bono legal work to Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.
My name is Ashleigh Casazza and I have been an elementary music specialist in Clark County School District for 10 years. I currently teach at Parson Elementary School. Three years ago our school began the process of installing our garden. I attended a teacher garden training before our garden was installed and I was hooked! Once our garden was installed, I became the garden lead at our school and started a garden club to help kids access the garden throughout the week. Although I have childhood experience pulling weeds and breaking beans in our family garden, I am in no way a gardener! I love the way the garden engages and excites the kids, no matter what I’m trying to teach.
Anna Peltier, PLA, LEED AP BD+C, SITES AP
Anna is the founder and owner of Aria Landscape Architecture, LLC located in Las Vegas, NV. Anna has been practicing landscape architecture for over a decade and specializes in edible landscapes and native plant material. She stays connected with her local community through volunteer work and community outreach, as well as promoting holistic landscape opportunities through speaking engagements for the SNWA’s WaterSmart Contractor courses, US Green Building Council Nevada Chapter, Master Gardeners Program and American Institute of Architecture Las Vegas Chapter (AIA). Anna is a current board member for the AIA Las Vegas Chapter and member of the AIA Committee On The Environment (COTE).
I have been teaching students with intellectual differences for 11 years. I am at Fremont Professional Middle School. I started my first school garden in 2006. We have had our garden at Fremont for three years and have had great success.
My name is Joslyn Calaway. I’m a 3rd grade teacher at Roger Bryan Elementary School. Thanks to our visionary principal in partnership with Green our Planet, construction of our garden and outdoor classroom was completed near the beginning of this school year. Although I had very limited gardening knowledge and experience, I joined the RBES Garden Committee and attended the Green our Planet teacher training session in Nov. 2016. Afterwards, I made a commitment to bring my class to visit the garden every day, whether it was for a structured lesson or a quick walk through. Before long I was convinced that connecting to nature was genuinely good for kids. Another teacher helped me realize that I didn’t have to be an expert in order to make infusing the garden into our daily routine a priority. If a student asks a question I don’t know the answer to, I just say, “That’s a great question, but I’m not sure. We’re learning together!”
Linda Sullivan teaches English to 6th graders and this is her first year at Canarelli. She is thrilled with the addition of the salad bar because for only $3.25, she is able to enjoy a healthy lunch including a salad with grilled chicken, cheese, tomatoes, and vegetables in addition to tortilla chips and humus. It's great she states because where else can you get a full salad for such a low price and since eating light is usually what she likes to do it works out perfect. The salad bar is fast, convenient and healthy!
Naomi Lewis is a senior at UNLV studying Environmental Studies. She works on issues regarding water resources and plastic waste reduction at UNLV through a campaign called Take Back the Tap. She joined TBTT her freshman year of college and has held the positions Historian, Secretary, and Vice President, and is now the current President. Her goal is to make UNLV a more sustainable school. She also works for a local non-profit organization called Nevada Conservation League. With NCL she fights for environmentally friendly legislation in the current legislative session. Naomi hopes to one day work for the City of Las Vegas and make it a more sustainable city.
Pre-K courtyard beautification. We started with gray walls and one of our staff members got her church involved for a community service project. They created a four seasons mural, interactive music wall, and learning wall (numbers, shapes, letters). This project inspired the garden with shapes and colors.
At B&B Ristorante, Chef Brett Uniss oversees the kitchen staff who execute classic and adventurous Italian cuisine. With a green certification, Uniss creates dishes from every part of the animal, wasting no part. He keeps a sustainable kitchen in mind at all times when cooking.
Before leading this culinary team, Uniss worked in the Napa Valley at notable restaurants including Étoile and Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. After three years on the West Coast, Uniss headed east to continue working under Keller’s team at Per Se and later Bouchon Bakery. In 2010, Uniss received an opportunity to become sous chef of é by José Andrés in Las Vegas. Most recently, Uniss worked with Elizabeth Blau at Honey Salt and then Andiron Steak & Sea, both local Las Vegas restaurants. Uniss attended Johnson & Wales University and received a Bachelors degree in culinary arts.
Paula Campbell is a GATE teacher at Lake Elementary where she is also the Garden Club Leader. She has been a GATE teacher in CCSD for 18 years, and the Garden Club leader for two years. She recently helped organize a school wide Earth Day celebration at Lake as well as a competition for recycled cans. She has a real passion for the gardens at Lake.
I have been an Education Specialist at Spring Preserve for the past 11 years and I have a Masters in Permaculture Education. I am part of the Green Our Planet cadre that created the book, The Outdoor Garden Classroom: Hands-on STEAM Teaching Curriculum, adopted by CCSD. I design and teach the following: “Create a Teaching Garden”, a PDE series for teachers, “Let’s Get Growing” a Youth Garden series with hands-on experiments and garden-based activities, Botanicals and Beyond Series: Classes based on nature’s design. I have also taught
Summer Camp based on the principles of Permaculture, Teacher Training workshops, and a variety of garden classes. I am a member of the Regenerative Edge-ucation Collective, Institute for Permaculture Education for Children, Great Basin Permaculture, Red Rock Audubon Society, and New Mexico Land Conservancy. I enjoy biking and hiking.
Brandi Eide is the Springs Preserve Botanical Garden Supervisor, overseeing the science and gardens team in caring for the 180 acre cultural institution with a dynamic and historic past and a focus on sustainable living, environmental awareness and water-smart landscaping. Before joining the Springs Preserve team, Brandi worked at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, and the University of California Botanical Garden in Berkeley. She has been an instructor at the Desert Landscaping School in Phoenix, instructed Xeriscape- Site Planning and Water Use for the Sustainable Building Advisor Program (Sonoran Chapter), and is a Certified Water Harvesting Design Practitioner with Watershed Management Group.
Ciara Byrne is the Founder and Co-Executive Director of Green Our Planet. She is a documentary filmmaker and entrepreneur who set up and ran a film production company, Lion Television, with offices in LA and New York. During that time, she managed over 60 employees and produced hundreds of films a year for PBS, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic, PBS, BBC, Fox, and E! A native of Dublin, Ireland, Ciara has traveled the world and decided it's her mission to leave a positive impact on the planet.
Kim MacQuarrie is the Founder and Co-Executive Director of Green Our Planet. He is a writer and a four-time Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker. He has an undergraduate degree in biology, a master's in anthropology, and lived in Peru for five years. During part of that time he lived with a recently-contacted Amazonian tribe, the Yora. A native of Las Vegas who has lived, studied-abroad, and worked around the world, Kim's most recent book is "Life and Death in the Andes: On the Trail of Bandits, Heroes, and Revolutionaries."
Taylor Quiram is a Landscape Designer and School Garden Coordinator for Green Our Planet. He graduated from UNLV in December 2013 with a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture. Originally from Central California, he grew up surrounded by agriculture, but it wasn't until studying landscape in the desert that the importance of food production became a priority to him. After graduating, he spent 4 months as an intern at an aquaponic's farm in Honokaa, Hawaii (Friendly Aquaponics). There he learned as much as possible about how the systems operate and how to scale systems for personal or commercial food production. Working as a School Garden Coordinator is an exciting step in his personal mission of better connecting communities to nature and increasing food sovereignty.
Emily Beamguard is a Horticulturalist and School Garden Coordinator for Green Our Planet. She has extensive horticulture experience and knowledgeable about hydroponics. She planted her first seed in her childhood vegetable plot. Emily's enjoyment of plants and outdoors led her to Oregon State University for a degree in Natural Resources. She started her career at USGS, researching plant and soil relationships, often using hydroponic systems for experiments. After almost a decade, she moved to a more commercial setting at the College of S. Nevada greenhouses helping with contract grow outs for USFWS and greenhouse/irrigation maintenance. Meanwhile, she's turned her house into a ¼ acre urban farm, which she uses as an educational demonstration of what can be grown in her local community. Emily believes that it is important for people to reconnect with nature and their food system and that putting gardens in schools is one of the best things we can do to help the future of the planet and our society.
Nicole Hansen is a Horticulturalist and School Garden Coordinator for Green Our Planet. She is a proud native of the Las Vegas Valley. She graduated from the College of Southern Nevada in 2015 with a degree in Horticulture and has held Master Gardner certification from 2011-2016. Prior to getting her degree, Nicole worked in construction management. In 2008, she took a couple of years to build and care for her family. During that process, she discovered her passion for plants and the environment. She then enrolled in the Horticulture program at CSN. Nicole looks forward to turning her passion for plants into enriching the lives of the Valley's children through outdoor education.
I am a U.N.L.V. Nutrition & Dietetic student and Green Our Planet Chef. As a student of Nutrition with a fast graduation date approaching, I am passionate about educating our future leaders of this nation in Nutrition. If we can teach them when they are young about living a healthy & disease-free lifestyle, we will then have less sickness for the future generations to come. The Green Our Planet Chef Demonstrations are the perfect way to get up-close and personal with the Nevada children. Making healthy snacks from their very own school garden teaches a simple way to start this trend in living longer and genetically passing down healthier genes. The children are very perceptive and excited each time we meet. I look to finding more ways to promote the health and wellness of our future.
I am a Gifted and Talented Specialist at Bonner Elementary School. My husband and I live in Henderson, NV and we have 2 children, ages 4 & 9. I have worked for CCSD for 13 years with 6 of those being in the gifted and talented program. In the fall, I will be opening the new school in Summerlin, Vassilliadis Elementary School. My passion within education lies in math and science and meshes perfectly with the GATE goals and objectives. I became interested in starting a school garden due to the rising numbers of childhood obesity and poor eating habits, and the disconnect our society has from "real" food. We raised over $10,000 in 3 short months and installed our garden in March of 2016. We continue to fundraise and maintain around $3,500 in our school garden account at all times.
My name is McKenzie Mayor, and I am a Nutrition major at UNLV. I am currently studying to become a dietitian as I love learning about food and how it relates to health. Upon discovering Green Our Planet, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the organization as it promotes environmental and culinary education to students. Having a passion for food and cooking makes me happy to share my knowledge about the importance of food and where it comes from to young individuals.
I am a Special Education/Science Co- Teacher at Chaparral High School. I am in my 14th year in CCSD at both middle and high school level. I am the Chaparral Community Garden Coordinator, Chaparral Garden Club Advisor, Chaparral Science Adventure Coordinator, and a UNCE Master Gardener. I am on the Board of Project Green: Friends of Pittman Wash and Desert Wetlands Conservancy. My personal mission is to bring student learning to the outdoors through garden, science, and environmental activities
Michelle Wheatfill has been a teacher at Walter Bracken STEAM Academy for eleven years. She is currently serving as the Assistant Principal at Bracken but has also helped Walter Long and Howard Hollingsworth in becoming a STEAM Academies. Michelle helped write the FFVP grant for Bracken and continues to support the gardening program in schools. Bracken is consistently seeking ways to increase healthy lifestyles for students.
Normagwen he first learned to love gardening from her parents while being raised in Mojave, CA. Having lived in several areas of the county she has been fortunate to garden in some unusual places. She grew tomatoes on a roof top in New York City, raised pansies in a small space in front of her Salt Lake City apartment and grew herbs and veggies with a hydroponics system on her balcony in San Diego, CA. She gleaned a variety of fruits and vegetables planted and grown at her home in Gilbert, AZ. Now, she gardens in pots at her home in North Las Vegas and, of course, in the raised garden beds at Monaco Middle School.
Jocelyn Schroedter is a second year art specialist at Walter Long STEAM Academy. She is originally from Kentucky and has loved art for as long as she can remember. She loves working with the diverse learners at her school, getting students excited about making art, and getting to paint all over the walls.