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Las Vegas School Gardens Leader Honored By Obama

<div>A student sits in the garden she has helped grow.</div>
Juliana Urtubey
A student sits in the garden she has helped grow.

One school garden in Las Vegas has blossomed into 166 and more around the state.

Now Ciara Byrne, who started the program with her life partner Kim MacQuarrie, is being honored as an Obama Foundation fellow. Byrne is one of 20 people from around the world receiving the two-year fellowship; 5,000 people applied.

“I believe this is a very good life path for me and for Kim and we’ve done it together,” she said, “We really made it happen because we did it together.”

Byrne told State of Nevada the fellowship will help her and MacQuarrie do the kind of planning needed to roll out their Green Our Planet gardening program nationwide.

She said that was the idea behind the fellowship program. The Obamas wanted to choose organizations that were making a big difference in their communities and looking to scale up those programs.

"By lifting these leaders and their organizations up, they will have many fold impact all around the world,” Byrne explained.

MacQuarrie grew up in Las Vegas but left to study abroad after two years at UNLV.

He has a background in biology but he and Byrne were documentary filmmakers before falling into school gardening. The idea sprung out of a crowdfunding website they started.

“The reason we started this crowd-funding website was to fund any kind of green project in the community,” Byrne said.

Byrne and MacQuarrie received a request to make a film for the website to help raise money for a school garden. After they raised $7,000 in a few weeks, they received a request from another school and then another. 

Eventually, the teachers started to ask for STEM curriculum for the gardens. That is when they received a grant to pay a group of teachers to write the curriculum to go with gardens.

Not long afterward, when they had put gardens in about 30 to 40 schools around the Las Vegas Valley, Byrne and MacQuarrie realized they weren't filmmakers anymore.

“We both are very passionate about fostering the connection between the planet and students, especially,” Byrne said.

MacQuarrie says gardening helps elementary students make a connection to the earth, and perhaps make them more concerned about the climate change happening worldwide.

"The more you learn about the planet the more appreciation you have for the planet. It should start as early as possible," he said.

Byrne said it is that belief that drives this project.

“One of the reasons we’re so invested and passionate about the garden program is that Kim and I firmly believe if you don’t connect the next generation of students to the planet in a way where they can actually fall in love with it how can we honestly expect them to want to protect it,” Byrne said.

(Editor's note: This interview originally aired May 17, 2019)

Ciara Byrne, co-founder, Green Our Planet/Obama Foundation fellow; Kim MacQuarrie, co-founder, Green Our Planet

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