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318. Little Gardener | Julie Cerny | Environmentalist and Garden Educator Extraordinaire | Hudson Valley, NY
27th April 2020 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 01:23:10

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The Little Gardener: Inspire Children to Connect with the Natural World 

It's truly a book out of my heart.

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Connect with The Little Gardener author Julie Cerny Here:

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Do you have any questions for me?

Well, I was wondering about your journey a little bit.

Well, I call my audience Green Future Growers, mostly they are interested in growing a lot of food, they have large backyard gardens, they are master gardeners, but I have gotten a lot of new listeners so there might be more new gardeners. I started my podcast in January 2015, and I have done 318 interviews with backyard gardeners, market farmers, etc and so I feel like since I started my podcast I could keep a class of students alive if I had to. 

My husband and I live on 20 acres in NW Montana, so deer is a big challenge here. Many listeners etc say that is a giant challenge. Mikes goal is trying to grow as much of our own produce as we can but this year we are trying to do more, we are even looking into having a WWOOFER coming to stay and maybe help Mike because we feel like this land should produce as much as it can and more then Mike can by himself in case we need food in the fall.


It wasn’t until I saw children in a garden—holding seeds, planting them, touching the soil, and smelling, harvesting, and tasting food (nature)—that I knew they were truly perceiving their place in the natural world. And it made perfect sense.

The most direct and intimate way to connect with nature is, clearly, to eat it. A small part of it becomes a small part of you—and it fills you up a little more every time.

Eventually you begin to realize that you have always been 100 percent nature, that you are made of the same components of all that you see in the natural world—your body made of water and carbon, same as the flower stalks. Gardens remind us that everything is connected, and that “everything” includes us.

The Little Gardener: Inspire Children to Connect with the Natural World 

Here's my amazon review:

Five stars*****

All you need to help inspire the little gardener in your life.

Don't forget to leave yours so this book gets shared by all who need it: Illustrations bring gardening to life in this little workbook that is designed by someone who obviously knows kids + gardens and how to love and enjoy them together! Fantastic read. LOVE LOVE LOVE!

It is Friday April 24, 2020 It's truly a book out of my heart. They are giving one to a listener.

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IDK where you are?

Find Julie on instagram @

and on Facebook at

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hudson Valley in NY State. 2 hours of NYC.

I grew up on Long Island till I was ten. My family moved upstate to where my dad had a hunting cabin. 

Moving from the suburbs at the age of 10 for a fledgling 6th grader, but looking back on it, I'm so glad they did. 

How lucky were you to get to move upstate.

I loved the close knit community in the suburbs, but I'm a nature girl at heart, more of a country girl and I'm glad I got to develop a stronger love of nature. 

Me too!

Even when we lived on Long Island, we had a tiny postage stamp backyard, and most of that, probably 20-30% of that backyard, we had in vegetables all along the perimeter of the yard. There was never any question with the connection to where food came from because we always had tomatoes growing etc. That was natural.

That connection was made pretty naturally, when we moved upstate dad really expanded his garden, put in an orchard

They had:

  • 5 acres
  • still live on that land
  • apple trees are my dad’s heart and soul

helping in the garden

once I got to be a teenager I wasn’t super duper excited about it. But that really gave me a foundation and a jumping off point for a connection to nature.

not along of the typical

  • forts
  • streams
  • mud-pies

always had this connection to natural world that began to manifest belonging to an environmental group in high school and then going to an environmental science and forestry program here in sunny Syracuse NY

What I started feeling that education

being an outdoor educator felt like my path

educational fellowship my last couple of years

inner city Syracuse

I felt like this is it! Connecting kids to nature is what I want to do!!

That manifested over a few years

few different jobs

  • NY state parks
  • adirondack mountain club
  • taking kids hiking
  • taking kids in canoes
  • looking at pond water under a microscope

nature still felt

When I would engage with nature, yes 

  • let’s identify this tree or this animal track
  • it didn’t feel like enough!
  • Nature still felt like an other

this one

Taconic Nature Center

I've been there (but really I went to the Ashokan outdoor center about 45 minutes away)

It's a great programing.

We didn't have blacksmithing but there was a farm nearby that had more of those historic skill type stuff. 

We had a

  • mammals course
  • aquatics course
  • project adventure ropes course for team building

we did have a lot of 6th graders, aligning with the 6th grade curriculum

Along with the quote from the book, watching kids eat from a book

I love identifying trees

I love identifying birds

observing in things in nature

but engaging in it is something totally different and actually putting a piece of nature into your body takes it to next level

nature communication and nature interpretation

Nature is food so I said, let me check out this organic farming. I tried this organic farming just for a weekend and I was sold.

I moved out to Colorado to intern farm

  • part educational
  • production

interest to sustainable living off grid 9000 feet elevation

  • working with the land and allowing it to be part of our lives
  • That was a big shift, watching where all my food came
  • also took a course with the Audubon in Maine

3 week intensive just before I went to colorado

just watching, we took it back to basics!

we want to bake bread then somebody starts

  • grind the wheat
  • split firewood

taking it back to basics is different then the part of me that climbs a mountain to see a pretty view the working with kids to check it out flipping logs over and playing in streams

It came full circle back to gardening

its a really excusable way to connect with nature intimately and personally.

Do you want to explain about the little gardener big gardener and how it starts out, because people probably don't alway know how to start with a kid?

The Little Gardener: Inspire Children to Connect with the Natural World 

the book is designed to be read by a big gardener to help guide little gardeners to create:

  • dreaming
  • growing
  • harvesting
  • learning

together! The book is laid out pretty chronologically, in terms of setting intentions, and mindfulness and always coming back to that dream to guide you and where you want your garden to go.

visualizing your garden

connecting your land

observing your environment

what kind of garden is going to work for this place

I love that you start out talking about an inviting garden!

the most the gardens I felt most wowed by a real energy shift by just walking into it, it was part wild and cultivated, when you walked into it there were 

  • places to sit
  • defined paths
  • it just had that element of wild nature
  • and "domesticated nature"

I think that is so true, because like Mike has his minifarm that is production for vegetables but then we have our garden area that I refer to as the organic oasis because it's a place where we hangout and have picnics and bar-b-ques with the kids etc and I like to paint and relax and read. A place to be and enjoy is very different then a farm that just produces food.

the more kids feel invited into the garden, just like adults the more they are going to want to be in there

When they are a part of setting those intentions

building the structures that allow the garden to come alive that's gonna be a space they connect to more

something that’s woven

ecological literacy

the idea that natural systems support all life on this earth!

We are a part of those systems, it's important to understand they sustain us and how to co create with those systems to create ideally a more sustainable society

In a garden that you are co creating with 

it's more easy to see how your actions affect your immediate environment for better or worse

they will have a better sense as they grow looking beyond nature in their backyard and garden to oh, I can have an affect on the nature in my community

I think gardening is a lesson in so many things!

I think it allows us to see what we are capable of doing with our own two hands and in our minds in nature.

I love that so eloquent. It's amazing to me, when I look at your book, I'm like wow! because I like a lot of the things in your book are very similar to what we put it in our book the organic oasis guidebook is similar like the bean teepee and deep beds but I love your layout! 

I think it is so timely right now, we've been teaching online for a month now, I am trying to think of different ways to engage my families. We just had Earth Day, we did just teach in Wonders Mc Graw Hill's curriculum for earth day we had great stories on recycling and solar power etc that we've been reading but I think there are so many ideas in your book I can use with them. 

It’s a blessing and a curse

at our local nursery I can do a garden activity and book signing!

these things that are described in the book

my heart breaks a little bit not being able to do it.

but honestly the book is about parents and children for families to create and grow in their garden and parents are all stuck at home with their children so what could be more perfect?

pining for this connection to nature

how connected we are to the biology of the planet

there couldn’t be a more perfect time for the book to come out

One thing I wanted to add, there is this big gardener, little gardener dynamic throughout the book, people ask me is it for kids or for adults?

it’s for both of you

Most of the text is designed to be read by an adult

there are these side bars that are written for little readers, just a short paragraph

designed to pick up the book themselves

One of my friends, she has 2 twin five year olds, and she had a picture of Nora reading the book in a chair, so I was so excited!

the five year old is picking up the book!

  • it’s so good!
  • it’s so good!

I’m glad that I’m hearing from adults

picking it up on their own

I think the illustrations are invited, draw a garden map, that you phrase it like that, just like you said, I could see my 3rd graders reeaing a good percentage of this especially the side bars, the way it goes in chronological order, the journal prompts and the planting calendar, and the illustrations of teh tools. It's like workbook and draw in it or hav ea notebook with it. The layout is fantastic!

Yea the harvesting olympics!

I feel like the illustrations capture the vibe of the book, it’s a perfect balance between being able to something that was really important to me was 


if there’s an illustration of a seed or a plant

if it’s a raspberry bush

I want ti to look like a raspberry

plant physically correct

soft and welcoming

Esemie the illustrator just nailed it.

I think you guys totally nailed it. Do you want to talk about the content in it? My listeners are always interested in what can they do to be more productive and grow more vegetables in their spaces. It's all gold!

The most important piece of advice I have used in gardening is observe observe observe.

one reason I like to water is it gives me time to stare at the plants

drip tape is super efficient, and turing on a sprinkler is super efficient too

But watering by hand is one of the ways that helps me get to observe and know what is going on in my garden

Permaculture Design Tips

The other thing is I took a permaculture design course some years ago, some of the suggestions that come through in permaculture is to observe your space for an entire year!

Don't screw around, really get to know that space.

  • where does the frost settle?
  • where does it lift first?
  • where do the puddles form?
  • where is it more rocky?

where does it


Sometimes we get so excited about getting our plants into the ground

foundational pieces that are going to be important and trickle down

making sure your soil is good before you begin

or you're gonna be heartbroken!

If you are all excited about growing carrots and potatoes and you find out bedrock 6 inches down or less or your soil is filled with slate or shale pieces

I think it's worth taking the time inthe beginning

or you put it where the tree is going to grow up and be shaded in all of august or it's gonna burn in August

get to know where your sun and shadows are moving!

it’s a very joyful and mediative process

  • grow your potatoes in those fabric potato sacks
  • have a raised bed to start and incorporate back to the garden later 

once you have a sense of the ecology of your space

relationship between being efficient and being joyful

come up agains rather, I feel like it ends with being productive and having a good time in the garden. 

I’m gardening for a lot of reasons

  • one is for production and one is for joy
  • many other reasons

this mantra I try to embody

I am peacefully productive and mindfully efficient

taking both of those worlds

I feel good about both of them, I am at peace but getting things done, learning to find the joys of being efficient

if I am being efficient I feel like I have to move really fast then I am not really connecting to my garden in that spiritual, sacred way we connect to our land and there is a way to do both so I tried to weave mindfulness within the book.

I think that it's one way if listeners will bond with their children if they do the activities in the book, because like you mentioned the interview I did with Joel he talked about growing up with awful memories of just weeding, weeding, weeding...

that was what he was forced to do where as you're talking about all the joys of a garden you can get and they are going to eat but they are going to look back on with fond memories!

I really want to

this is kind of what I wanted to say before about ecological literacy

being in your garden that you are out in nature

I’m so glad you decided to share that one quote at the beginning of our conversation because my main goal for the book is to use gardening as a tool to understand that we are part of nature and we have the ability to co-create in a really positive way to make us healthier, good and more connected to our families and communities!

This is such an important time for that. In redneck Montana, there are lots of people don't want to wear masks, I mean our grocery stores are good, and people are staying home but I continually see things that say, people are gathering here. 

I just feel that people who are protesting, we need to reach out to them personally, like literally call them on the phone, not through email, and reach out to them and say hey:

  • the red cross needs help - most of their volunteers are seniors
  • food banks need help
  • what if we doubled all the backyard gardens where people are already growing and said if you grow food if we build you an extra bed would you grow more
  • expand community gardens
  • school gardens

We're gonna use part of our stimulus to help Mike grow more food because who know what is going to be like this fall. I feel like there are places in our community. You could probably build a deep bed safely on your own. 

I also wanted to ask you about your club in high school, like I think if there was an environmental group, I think I would have been an environmental lawyer. Let's get the people who are wanting to be out to work...




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