Spotlight on … Ithaca Children’s Garden

By Rob Montana
Tompkins Weekly

Non-profit organizations are plentiful throughout Tompkins County, and make a big impact in our communities. Despite their contributions, area non-profits can sometimes go unnoticed or unknown. In an effort to shine a spotlight on those who are making a difference in our county, Tompkins Weekly will be showcasing these organizations on a regular basis.

Photo provided by Ithaca Children’s Garden A group of students from the Genessee Community Charter School 6th grade class recently visited ICG for inspiration and ideas on designing, operating, and maintaining a nature-based adventure playground. They enjoyed exploring the entire 3-acre garden, in spite of the cold, snowy weather, taking a moment to pose for a photo with Gaia the turtle.
Photo provided by Ithaca Children’s Garden
A group of students from the Genessee Community Charter School 6th grade class recently visited ICG for inspiration and ideas on designing, operating, and maintaining a nature-based adventure playground. They enjoyed exploring the entire 3-acre garden, in spite of the cold, snowy weather, taking a moment to pose for a photo with Gaia the turtle.

This week we are highlighting the Ithaca Children’s Garden, and asked Erin Marteal, executive director for the non-profit, some questions about the organization.

Tompkins Weekly: What is your mission?
Erin Marteal: To inspire, promote, and sustain youth and community stewardship of the natural environment through garden-based learning and discovery, or, abbreviated, to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards.

TW: How do you fulfill that mission?
EM: By providing an inviting, magical garden and expert staff to facilitate meaningful experiences for children and families with nature. We work with youth of all ages, schools, teens and professionals to connect more children to the wonders of the natural world in meaningful, impactful ways. ICG’s innovative environmental education takes place on our 3-acre garden campus as well as out in schools and community centers. ICG’s philosophy is heavily informed by the fields of permaculture (people care, earth care and fair share), playwork and positive youth development.
A central key to fulfilling our mission is providing access and inclusion for all. ICG is here for the entire community, offering a literal front (and back) yard for every family and child in our community.

TW: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces?
EM: Even though ICG serves 8,500 through direct education annually and 54,000-plus visitors pass through our gates each year, many community members are not acquainted with ICG. We are always exploring ways of getting the word out so more children, families, and community members can get connected to ICG as a resource.
On a broader scale, one of our largest challenges is empowering youth and their adults to get outdoors in an increasingly indoor culture. It’s really difficult to inspire environmental stewardship when children are not spending any time outside.

TW: What is something people do not know about your organization?
EM: ICG is home to one of only a half dozen adventure playgrounds in the country, the Hands-on-Nature Anarchy Zone, designed to foster child-directed free play.
Also, ICG’s oldest and longest-running program is Teen Urban Farmers, which employs 15-20 teens each summer to work, learn and build marketable job skills in five arenas: Visitor services, garden operations, entrepreneurship, food justice and community outreach. TUF teens provide leadership for operating ICG’s Farm Stand which sells youth-grown vegetables, fruits, herbs, cut flowers, and a rotating refreshment Wednesdays through the summer. TUF also grows fresh herbs for Moosewood Restaurant, and next year TUF will offer a limited number of Community-Supported Agriculture shares for purchase.

TW: How can people best support your mission?
EM: There are a number of ways people can support our mission.
1) Invite a friend or neighbor to join you on your next visit to the Garden, all through the year and share your visit on social media and tag Ithaca Children’s Garden.
2) Make a gift of time or talent. Volunteers of all stripes and interests are critical to meeting our mission. We currently seek a board member with expertise in entrepreneurship and/or business.
3) Make a gift to ICG’s annual fund by December 31 and it will be matched 1:1 by a challenge gift. As ICG receives no line item from Cornell, city, state, county or federal government, every gift makes a difference. And, we need at least 10 new donors to qualify for the match.
4) Spend time outdoors, enjoying the natural world, with a child in your life.