All the staff knows when there’s a field trip coming to Moore Farms Botanical Garden and it isn’t just because they saw it on the company calendar. Kelli Meeker, Youth and Outreach Coordinator, radiates excitement every day that she shares with students, both at the garden and during offsite outreach. “I see the bus!” she exclaims from the window and she’s bounces out of the office to meet her group for the day.
Kelli leads the MFBG youth education and outreach program that reaches over 3,000 children in the Pee Dee region. She is constantly working with teachers to bring students’ learning to life when they visit the garden. Not only does Kelli coordinate and lead school field trips, she also teaches non-traditional school groups at the garden, plans all of the garden’s family programs, manages spring break and summer camps,
“Offering field trips, family programs, and youth focused events makes us a fixture in the community,” Kelli explains. “Kids can come out on a school field trip and then their whole family will come for a program or event—it’s not just a once a year destination.”
Her normal day usually involves a field trip, which can take a variety of forms. “Sometimes we have tiny kids singing songs and completing sensory activities such as smelling and feeling herbs and some days we have high schoolers that learn about living architecture at the green roof trial areas,” she explains.
Right now, Kelli is expanding MFBG’s reach to new schools and counties in the area. She’s also trying to get older students to come to the garden for field trips. When students aren’t visiting the garden in person, Kelli is in schools bringing a piece of the garden with her. “A really fun part of my job has been advising school garden projects,” Kelli says. “Even smaller scale projects like creating a worm bin or redoing small planters are extremely rewarding.”
The summer season brings a whole new layer of excitement to the youth opportunities at Moore Farms Botanical Garden. Kelli coordinates three summer camps during June and July, plus a special garden apprenticeship program where students learn all about the food system, land stewardship, agricultural history and nutrition.
After a few minutes of talking to Kelli, it’s clear she’s a natural at the job and it’s easy to be inspired by her passion for outdoor education and experiential learning. However, her interest in the industry didn’t begin until after college. During her undergraduate studies at Muhlenberg College, she always thought her future would be living abroad and working for the United Nations.
“I knew by the time I graduated that I actually wanted an outdoor, hands-on job,” Kelli says. “My academic skills didn’t lead to that directly so I went to AmeriCorps and became the School Garden Coordinator at the Montezuma School to Farm Project in Colorado.”
“My position in AmeriCorps introduced me to gardening, agriculture, and youth education all at once,” Kelli explains. This experience helped lead to where she is today, opening up new worlds to children of all ages and offering them a chance to experience the world in a different way.
“Youth have such a transformative experience here—it opens kids up to a new language!” Kelli smiles. “When we talk about things through a lens of gardening, it helps engage in education in a way that isn’t traditional. One student who has been here for countless field trips and camps is now determined to become a turf specialist in the future.”
Some days offer especially touching moments for Kelli. She recounts a story of when she had 3rd graders working on poems from the perspective of objects
they find in the garden. One student selected a rock and when poems were read, it allowed him to share a memory of a painting rocks when his grandma passed away. “It is so meaningful to be able to create a safe space for youth in an environment that brings out memories,” she says.
She’s lovingly referred to as Miss Kelli by her students and repeat youth visitors can’t wait to see her. On days when she teaches other field trips during a summer camp, you’ll often over hear a camper saying, “When is Miss Kelli coming back? She’s our favorite.”
Children are often the most honest, and Kelli gets nothing but rave reviews. Her ability to educate in an interactive, relatable way is a true asset to the area and is undoubtedly making an impact on waves of future leaders.
In her spare time, Kelli loves spending time in her own vegetable garden and practicing yoga. She enjoys cooking and often brings her kitchen experiments to for the staff to sample. If you’re looking for a movie watching buddy, Kelli might not be your person. “Can I say that I prefer TV shows? And then my favorite is Criminal Minds,” she laughs.
“I really just love connecting with natural things and creating an atmosphere where others can do the same,” she says. “Being outside and around plants is so good for you, plus it’s a really cool community to be a part of.”
If you want to open a whole new world for your child or students, consider visiting the garden for a field trip, family program, school tour, or event. If you can’t come to us, we provide offsite outreach to spread outdoor education to all those interested.
By Roberta Burns, Events and Marketing Coordinator.