Spotlight: Project PLANTS

Students working on projects at horticulture camp

Not Your Grandma’s Gardening

A horticulture camp at the JC Raulston Arboretum


This camp for rising 7th and 8th graders is guaranteed to develop some green thumbs. Students explore a variety of agriculture and horticulture themes, go on field trips, and do experiments and hands-on projects. It’s not just about growing things; it’s about the science of why and how things grow. Topics include solar power, vermicomposting, pollination, and hydroponics.

Project PLANTS works with community partners to show students real-life applications of agricultural concepts, including Transplanting Traditions, Sweet Pea Urban Garden, the Well Fed Community Garden, the Horticultural Greenhouses at NCSU, and Bayer Bee Care. In 2017, Bayer provided a grant to build and maintain beehives, teaching students the importance of apiculture and pollinators.

The program is designed to make serious science lots of fun. By providing an avenue for peer interactions, Project PLANTS aims to help middle schoolers maintain an interest in science. They have found that the social aspect is a key component of keeping kids engaged.


Campers examine plants in the field


I enjoyed speaking with instructor Rachel Berube, who not only has chosen a field of study that I had never heard of, but has a skill that I inherently lack. I am completely incapable of keeping plants alive, and my eyes glaze over when my friends talk about composting. Perhaps a scientific summer camp would have been more useful than simply watering my mother’s tomato plants or pulling weeds.

Rachel graduated from Auburn University last year with a degree in Agronomy and Soil in 2017, and has been working with the education program at the Arboretum for the past year. She plans to attend the Agriculture & Extension Education master’s program at NCSU in the fall. Her prior experience with children includes working as a sports camp counselor at Kids Across America in Missouri, at a YMCA day camp, and with a nonprofit in Alabama that ran an agriculture-related camp.

Rachel has enjoyed her time at the JC Raulston Arboretum, as she loves to share the joy of growing things and wants to spark that interest in youth. She likes helping people make the connection between soil health and public health, such as how learning about composting can change the way you eat.


A Typical Day at Camp

In the morning, campers help care for the gardens around the Education Yurt. They work on their own plot, harvesting and sharing the produce when ready. Then there are trips to local farms, businesses, or research operations which are related to the day’s theme. It may be a bee care center, a greenhouse, or a farm involved in plant propagation or hydroponics. Guest speakers also come out to shed light on certain topics; for example, the NCSU entomology department leads a discussion on pollinators.

The camp is designed for 24 students, and it’s an equal mix of boys and girls. Some have parents who are avid gardeners, while others have no experience whatsoever.

You never know what will peak a child’s interest. One camper discovered a love for insects last summer and continued to educate everyone he knew about pollinators, specifically the pipevine swallowtail butterfly. He plans to study entomology in college. 


group projects in the garden


What should parents know

Rachel says this program offers kids a great way to make friends with like-minded people who think nature is cool. Each group who has attended in the past was thrilled with the friendships they made. One attendee stated, “my mom did good on choosing this camp.”

The camp will spark interest in things they’ve never thought about and inspire curiosity and wonder.

There is also a Saturday program throughout the year, which allows students to continue exploration and participate in fun seasonal activities.

camper holding up a bug in a jar


How to register

The 2018 session runs from July 23 to July 27, 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. The cost is $300 for JCRA members and $330 for nonmembers.

Multiple full scholarships are available--apply soon to reserve your spot! The application link can be found on the registration page. 

Visit the website for more info and sign up online.