Washington Youth Garden



For 50 years, Washington Youth Garden (WYG), the youth outreach and education branch of Friends of the National Arboretum, has provided hands-on education to connect youth to food, the land, and each other. We help District of Columbia youth build positive relationships with food and nature, increase consumption of healthy foods, and gain knowledge of science, agriculture, and nutrition. 

Established in 1971 on the grounds of the U.S. National Arboretum to teach local elementary students horticultural and life skills, WYG has grown into an award-winning education program supporting thousands of under-resourced students all over Washington, DC for the past half century.


In 1971, the Washington Youth Garden Council and the DC Department of Recreation broke ground at the U.S. National Arboretum. This established the fourth Youth Garden site in DC to teach elementary school students horticultural and life skills.

In 1973, WYG partnered with neighboring elementary schools to create the Garden Club for 3rd-5th graders. It operated as part of the DC Department of Parks and Recreation as an established community garden for children from local schools and DPR camps until 1996.

In 1996, due to DC budget cuts, Friends of the National Arboretum adopted Washington Youth Garden. It became our youth education and outreach program.

Adding a second full-time staff member in 1999 allowed WYG to significantly expand its programs.

In 2000, WYG established the Garden Science program, an 8 week plant science unit offered in classrooms at Title 1 schools. This program offered more formal horticulture science curricula than its predecessor, the Garden Club.

The Science Programming Reaching OUT (SPROUT) program was introduced in 2002 to bring Garden Science students on field trips to WYG.

Growing Food Growing Together started for families to learn gardening and cooking skills in their own plots at WYG.

In 2007, WYG instituted its summer internship program for college students.

We greatly appreciate the National Capital Area Garden Club’s crucial support during this time in our history which allowed WYG to flourish.

In 2010, our garden staff grew to 3 full-time members. We began installing school gardens in conjunction with Garden Science, and led the development of the DC Healthy Schools Act that dedicated state resources to horticulture education for the first time. WYG served 1,000 youth this year.

The Green Ambassador Program was established in 2013 for DC teenagers to gain experience in green careers through a paid summer internship.

In 2017 WYG hosted 4,200 students from 130 schools and camps on SPROUT field trips, marking the first year we served 6,000 youth.

The Summer Institute for Garden-based Teaching began in 2018 and the Green Ambassadors Program solidified its multi-tiered model.  

While the COVID-19 pandemic halted all in-person programs in 2020, WYG offered virtual farm field trips, virtual garden science classroom support, and Grow@Home kits. For the first time, WYG harvested and distributed over 4,000 pounds of produce to local students and families.

In 2020, WYG introduced the Educator Coaching Program to provide hands-on assistance and instruction to teachers throughout the school year. Green Ambassadors began the Guild, a paid internship opportunity during the academic year.


As we celebrate 50 years of the Washington Youth Garden, Friends of the National Arboretum seeks to elevate WYG as a premier destination in our region for garden-based education and nature play. We are investing in three key components to ensure children are immersed in garden education for the next 50 years:

Garden Redesign

We are redesigning our garden to make it more engaging and productive. Improvements in visibility, wayfinding, and self-guided activities will engage children and families in nature play, science, and agricultural education. 

With help from our design partner Groundsmith Collective, you will see new:

  • Interpretive signage
  • Self-guided activities
  • Play features

This redesign will streamline the garden’s layout, make it easier to maintain, and increase food production.

School Garden Support

We are adapting our programs to help more schools build strong, sustainable school garden programs. 

This program will have two main components:

  • Garden science curriculum is taught in units and is accessible to all educators.
  • Professional development opportunities provided for educators to help them achieve  their school garden goals through the Summer Institute for Garden-based Teaching and the Educator Coaching Program.

Green Ambassador Program

This multi-tier, year-round program provides DC high school students with foundational skills, mentorship, access to networks, and leadership opportunities in the green field.

We are expanding this program to include three tiers of participation:

  • Farm Crew is a 6-week paid internship where participants build a connection with the land and learn gardening, cooking, and carpentry skills.  
  • Guild is a participatory program that enables students to design and implement a group project that directly addresses food and environmental challenges in their community.
  • Crew Leaders are peer mentors to new Farm Crew participants.


Thank you to everyone who joined us in celebrating Washington Youth Garden’s 50th anniversary at our Birthday Party and Evening Benefit! Thank you in particular to the donors, sponsors, and in-kind supporters who made these events possible.

At both events, we met participants from the past five decades and shared stories of how the garden has changed since its inception in 1971. We also introduced new people of all ages to WYG, played games in the garden, and shared about our current education programs. Most importantly, we shared our vision for what the next 50 years of garden-based education in Washington Youth Garden will look like, starting with our proposed plans to redesign the garden.

Sponsor list as of June 7, 2022.


Margaret Strand
Lucy S. Rhame

Laura and Guy Cecala
Lynne H. Church
Gail Charnley Elliott and E. Donald Elliott
Jennifer Hatcher
Sherril Houghton
Lloyd E. Mitchell Foundation
Rafael Lopez and Linda Marks
Jim and Penny Morrill
National Capital Area Garden Clubs
Catherine Nottingham
Melissa and John Pflieger
Craven Rand
Pamela Raymont-Simpson and Charles J. Simpson, Jr.
Barbara and Jim Shea
Michael G. Stevens
Tuckie Westfall
Ken and Dottie Woodcock

Corporate Sponsors

Bernstein Management Corporation
Your Part-Time Controller

In-Kind Sponsors

Other Half Brewing
Supreme Core Cider


We want to hear your stories! With half a century of impact in our community, we want to know:

What does the Washington Youth Garden mean to you?

Write your story (no more than 500 words), share your photos, or upload a short video (30-40 seconds, no greater than 50 mb) answering this question and wishing Washington Youth Garden a happy birthday. We might feature your message in our birthday video!

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.
Share a photo or video that explains what Washington Youth Garden means to you (50 mb max)
So we can reach back out if we have additional questions.


Join us in celebrating the Washington Youth Garden’s 50th anniversary and help us plan for the next half century.

Become a FONA member today and help FONA and the Washington Youth Garden strengthen our visitor and education programs to better support the needs of our community. 

Your support helps programs like the Washington Youth Garden thrive! 

Thank you for helping us succeed — here’s to another spectacular 50 years!

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