Animal Tales

Growth in a Garden

Teens Grow Greens

Eh Kaw Moo helps transplant flowers in the Zoo’s greenhouse.

For most, gardening is an opportunity to grow nutritious treats and vibrant flowers. For Eh Kaw Moo, the Zoo and Zoological Society’s first Teens Grow Greens apprentice, it has been an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

The Milwaukee County Zoo and Zoological Society launched the apprenticeship in spring 2020 in partnership with Teens Grow Greens (TGG), an agriculturally minded nonprofit dedicated to developing teens on the north and south sides of Milwaukee through transformative experiences that cultivate belonging, skill-building and connections to opportunities that grow leadership. The apprenticeship takes the organization’s emphasis a step further, encouraging TGG graduates as developing young professionals to learn project management and other critical job skills.

Eh is earning a business degree at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee. He was a standout member of Teens Grow Greens in high school and an obvious choice to be the first apprentice. “Eh is mature; he’s somebody who is really driven to become better,” says Charlie Uihlein, executive director of Teens Grow Greens. “He models through his work ethic as well as his actions. He’s somebody who sees what he wants in the future, and he’s going to do it. He’s wonderful, somebody any organization would be happy to have.”

Eh, who grew up in Thailand, joined Teens Grow Greens during his senior year of high school. “I want to start a business one day,” he says. The Teens Grow Greens curriculum is divided into several units, including an entrepreneur unit.

Teens Grow Greens, launched in 2014, is increasingly prominent among the nonprofit community in Milwaukee, in part due to partnerships forged with organizations such as the Zoological Society. Ana Suson, the Society’s education coordinator of middle and high school programs, says Eh facilitated the department’s backyard beautification project. “We have garden beds that were recently installed in the backyard of the education building by Victory Garden Initiative,” she says. “Eh used project management skills to manage those beds, planning the right bed layout, budgeting for materials, caring for the beds and communicating with different stakeholders. The garden was quite a success.”

Since much of the Education Department’s new, conservation- focused curriculum involves pollinators, Eh filled the garden beds with pollinator-friendly plants such as marigolds, coneflowers and zinnias so students can see real examples of these creatures up close. He also helped the Zoo’s horticulture team maintain vegetation throughout the Zoo and install seasonal decorations. Eh created a portfolio to document his journey that includes what worked, what didn’t work and what he would have done differently, a valuable tool for apprentices who follow in his footsteps.

Uihlein believes gardens are wonderful classrooms. “They stimulate curiosity and values,” he says. “A plant has its own time, its own cycle. You’ve got to be patient, and then you get the payback.” The correlation between growing a garden and achieving personal growth is not lost on Eh. “When you see how much you put in and see how much the plants grow, it feels great. I’ve learned skills to become a successful person.”

Teens Grow Greens

Eh’s duties included planning, planting and tending gardens behind the education building.

Interested in supporting or learning more about the Society and Zoo’s Teens Grow Greens apprenticeship? Contact Angie Doucette at 414-918-6152 or angied@zoosociety.org.