2023 Speaker Bios & Topics

Keynote Speaker

Nick Castro, Certified Brain Trainer, Neurorecording Specialist,
John Maxwell Certified Leadership Expert


BIO:  Nick Castro is a highly accomplished professional with over 20 years of experience in Agriculture and a passion for mental health education. With a background in Tropical Plants and Soil Sciences, Nick brings a global perspective to his work, having managed teams of over 100 individuals and budgets exceeding $45 million annually.

Certified by renowned experts such as Dr. Daniel Amen and John Maxwell, Nick is a licensed Brain Trainer and a certified Leadership Expert. His expertise spans topics such as Agriculture, the Environment, human health, leadership, communication, and personal development.

Join Nick at the DIG Conference for his enlightening session, "Soil Health is Mental Health." Discover how soil health impacts the urban environment and plays a crucial role in our mental well-being. Prepare to gain actionable strategies and insights that can transform not only your self-image but also your role in our communities.

Learn the significance of your everyday work to both you and your family, and its impact on the well-being of the broader population, both above and below ground. Register now to be inspired by Nick's captivating expertise and to uncover the profound connections between soil health, mental health, and community well-being.

Keynote Talk:  "Soil Health is Mental Health"

Nick Castro, a seasoned expert with over two decades of experience in Agriculture, delivers a high-impact motivational speech designed exclusively for Missouri's landscape and nursery professionals. Nick's journey from the fields of Agriculture to the forefront of mental health and leadership has equipped him with unique insights that can transform your business and your life.

In this dynamic and inspiring session, Nick will draw from his extensive background to deliver actionable takeaways that will empower you to excel in your business and personal endeavors. You'll gain invaluable strategies to enhance your leadership skills, improve communication, and supercharge decision-making processes.

But this isn't just about business; it's about life. Nick will share the profound connections between mental health, leadership, and overall well-being. You'll discover how a thriving mindset and a healthier approach to work can impact every facet of your life.

Nick's motivational expertise isn't based on theory alone but on real-world experience. Having managed large teams and multimillion-dollar budgets, he understands the unique challenges faced by professionals like you in the landscape and nursery industry.

Prepare to leave this session with a renewed sense of purpose, armed with practical strategies you can implement immediately. Nick Castro's motivational speech is not just about inspiration; it's about transformation. Take advantage of this opportunity to cultivate success in your business and life.

Main Bullet Points of Talk:

Unlocking Leadership Excellence: Discover practical leadership insights from Nick Castro's 20 years of experience in Agriculture. Learn how to lead with confidence, inspire your team, and drive business growth.

The Mental Health Advantage: Explore the profound connection between mental health, decision-making, and overall well-being. Gain actionable strategies for cultivating a resilient mindset that enhances both personal and professional success.

Thriving in Business and Life: Leave with a toolkit of actionable takeaways that can be immediately applied to your landscape and nursery business. Nick's real-world expertise will help you excel in your industry and lead a more fulfilling life.

Talk #2  Soil Genomics - See what you have been missing

Join Nick Castro, a distinguished expert in Agriculture, for an enlightening breakout session that promises to revolutionize how you approach managing the urban landscape. In this informational event, Nick will introduce you to the groundbreaking world of Soil Genomics, a cutting-edge technology transforming the landscape and nursery industry.

You're not alone if you've never heard of Soil Genomic testing. This session is designed for professionals like you who are eager to stay ahead of the curve. Soil Genomics is the missing link to unlocking the secrets of tree health and achieving sustainable urban environments, all while reducing input costs.

During this session, you'll journey into the world beneath your feet. You'll discover how Soil Genomics empowers you with a deeper understanding of your soil's DNA, providing unprecedented insights into its health and vitality.

Nick will demonstrate how this knowledge can be harnessed to optimize urban landscape management strategies. Learn how to make informed decisions that promote tree health, enhance the beauty of urban spaces, and contribute to environmental sustainability.

Join Nick Castro for an eye-opening session that will change how you view soil and its role in shaping our urban environments. Embrace the future of sustainable landscape management with Soil Genomics.

Main Bullet Points of Talk:

The Soil Genomics Revolution: Understand the significance of Soil Genomics as a groundbreaking technology that unveils the hidden mysteries of soil health. Learn how this innovative approach is set to transform urban landscape management.

Unlocking Tree Health: Discover how Soil Genomic testing provides the missing link to tree health. Explore how the DNA of your soil can empower you with actionable insights to optimize tree care and ensure the longevity and vitality of urban green spaces.

Sustainability and Cost Reduction: Explore the practical applications of Soil Genomics in managing urban landscapes sustainably while reducing input costs. Learn how informed decision-making based on soil genomic data can lead to more efficient resource allocation and improved environmental sustainability.

Keynote Speaker

Dr. Charlie Hall
Texas A&M , Professor of Horticultural Sciences

"Green Industry Economic Climate and Forecast for 2024"

Dr. Charlie Hall is a sought-after speaker in our industry, an economist training and a professor in Texas A&M’s Department of Horticultural Sciences.  DIG keynote, “Green Industry Economic Climate and Forecast for 2024,” will take you on a deep dive into the current performance of the green industry.


Heather Holm
Pollination Press, Pollinator Conservationist and Author
BIO: Heather Holm is a pollinator conservationist and award-winning author of four books: Pollinators of Native Plants (2014), Bees (2017), Wasps (2021), and Common Native Bees of the Eastern United States (2022). Both Bees and Wasps have won multiple book awards including the American Horticultural Society Book Award (2018 and 2022 respectively). Heather’s expertise includes the interactions between native pollinators and native plants, and the natural history and biology of native bees and predatory wasps. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and many local publications. Heather is also an accomplished photographer and her pollinator photos are frequently featured in print and electronic publications.
"Creating and Managing Landscapes for Native Bees"

When creating and managing thriving habitats for native bees, many factors such as seasonal phenology, nesting strategies, and flower preferences must be considered—and with approximately 3,600 species in North America (north of Mexico), there are many unique aspects to keep in mind when managing successful landscapes for bees.

Join Heather as she explores the nesting habitats, life cycles, pollen collection, brood rearing, and general characteristics of some of the most common native bees in eastern North America, while highlighting the pollination of native plants and the mutualism between native plants and native bees. Learn about pollen specialists, the presentation of floral resources, and how the physical characteristics of bees can influence their effectiveness as pollinators. Heather will also discuss ways to manage landscapes to enhance bee diversity, plant selection considerations, and ultimately how to think like a bee!

Elliott Deumler
Taylor Creek Restoration Nurseries, Native Perennial Manager


BIO: Elliott Deumler provides native-plant industry leadership in the Midwest as the Native Perennial Manager at Taylor Creek Restoration Nurseries. His responsibilities include public education, native-plant propagation and maintenance, custom seed collection, oversight of nursery operations, and management of outside sales representatives. He focuses on exceeding our client expectations in quality and customer service.

"Know Your Natives on a First Name Basis"
Elliott will dive into attributes of natives for use in community-based landscape design focusing heavily on the Carex genre.
Native Sedges
Native Groundcovers
Community based plant design

Kim Grant, Director of Digital Strategy at 2060 Digital | Hubbard Interactive – St. Louis

BIO: Kim’s sales and marketing career spans 30 years with the last decade dedicated to developing the St. Louis division of 2060 Digital, a performance-oriented agency focused on driving measurable outcomes for local, regional, and national brands. 2060 Digital is in 10 markets nationwide and is a division of Hubbard Interactive.

Kim thrives on collaborating with clients to identify their challenges, developing the most
effective solutions to address each and driving measurable outcomes that are supported by data and transparent reporting.

She is extremely proud of her 6-year partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation that has led to the development and execution of marketing campaigns (new and evergreen) that inform, educate, and advocate green industry initiatives

TALK:  "Driving Business Growth: The Advantages of Digital Marketing

Overall, digital marketing offers numerous advantages for driving business growth. From expanding reach and engaging with targeted audiences to measuring results and gaining a competitive advantage, businesses can leverage the power of digital marketing to unlock growth opportunities and achieve their business goals.

1. Increase Business Footprint
2. Targeted Audience Engagement
3. Measurable Results
4. Cost Effectiveness
5. Building Brand Awareness
6. Competitive Advantage
7. Adaptability & Flexibility


Jared Hoyle, PhD,  Manager, Corteva Agriscience

BIO: Jared Hoyle, PhD - Dr. Jared Hoyle is a Territory Manager for Corteva Agriscience covering multiple Midwest states, living in Manhattan, KS. Hoyle serves the turf and ornamental industry not only with Corteva but also by maintaining various leadership positions, presenting and publishing within the T&O industry at regional and national levels. Before joining Corteva Hoyle was a Tenured Associate Professor, Extension Turfgrass Specialist, and the Director of the Rocky Ford Turfgrass Research Center at Kansas State University. Hoyle earned his Bachelor of Science in Horticulture Science in 2006 and a Master of Science in Crop Science in 2009 at North Carolina State University as well as a Doctorate in Agronomy and Soils in 2012 from Auburn University all focusing on Turfgrass Science. In addition, Hoyle also has been employed by various businesses as well as his own personal business focusing on the lawn care and golf sectors familiarizing and educating himself with the many aspects of the industry.

"Maximizing Weed Control in Turfgrass and the Landscape"

Want to reduce the weed pressure in turfgrass and landscaped properties? This presentation will cover the best herbicide practices to keep turf and landscape weed-free throughout the year. By pairing cultural practices with both preemergents and postemergents interchangeably, these areas will remain clean and weed-free. At the conclusion of this presentation, attendees will understand best management practices to effectively manage weeds in the landscape.

Main Bullet Points of Talk

At the conclusion of this presentation, attendees will understand best management practices to effectively manage weeds in turfgrass and the landscape.


Melissa Custic, The Morton Arboretum


Chicago Region Trees Initiative Operations Manager (certified arborist)

BIO: Melissa Custic is the Chicago Region Trees Initiative Operations Manager, overseeing projects developed by multi-agency work groups and helping the Chicago Region become the greenest, most livable, most resilient region in North America. Melissa holds a masters degree in Plant Biology and Conservation from Northwestern University plus more than a decade of experience in research, education, and outreach. She was named a 'Millennial to Watch' in 2019 by the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association and serves as vice president on the Illinois Invasive Species Council and chairperson of the Chicago Wilderness Alliance Urban Canopy Team.

TALK "Innovative Partnerships for a Thriving Urban Forest"
The urban forest in the Chicago Region is managed collectively by 284 municipalities, more than 150 park districts, 7 forest preserve districts, and numerous private property owners. In order to address regional-scale threats to the health, cover, and equity of the urban forest, multiple stakeholders at all levels- community groups, public land managers, green industry professionals, growers, etc- must work collaboratively. In this presentation, Melissa will provide examples of different approaches that have been taken in the past ten years to address low-canopy cover, poor species diversity, invasive species, and declining heritage oak ecosystems across the seven county Chicago region.

3 Main Bullet Points of Talk

1. For urban forest projects to be successful, multiple stakeholders must be involved in the planning and implementation phases.
2. Data collection, tracking, and sharing can help stakeholders develop creative solutions to unique problems.
3. Capacity building should be built into all projects for long term sustainability.



Adam Linnemann, The Green Executive®, Founder




BIO:  Adam Linnemann is the founder and CEO of The Green Executive, a landscape industry peer group and consulting firm. With over 29 years of landscape industry experience, Adam has grown his nationally recognized landscape company, Linnemann Lawn Care & Landscaping, Inc. from the bottom up.

Starting at the young age of just 14 years old, Adam has grown his lawn and landscape company from 1 to over 25 employees and is experienced in small landscape business acquisitions, strategic planning and marketing. His strengths include goal setting and accountability, organization of financial data and unique add-on business ideasthat help generate additional company revenue.

Adam is a Certified Profit First Professional Coach and LMN Certified Consultant. He is a retired Trailblazer with the National Association of Landscape Professionals and has sat on the Landscape Management Magazine Editorial Advisory Board. He has been featured in several trade magazines including Landscape Management, Turf, Lawn & Landscape Magazine and Green Industry Pros.

Adam is a two-time President of the Columbia, IL Rotary Club and is a regular columnist for the Waterloo, IL Republic Times. He is a retired Police Officer from the Valmeyer, IL Police Department and the Monroe County IL Sheriffs Office, at which he served his community for over 15 years. He is a member of the Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, St. Louis Nursery & Landscape Association, Snow & Ice Management Association and participates in
Project Evergreen and SnowCare for Troops.

In his spare time, Adam enjoys vacationing in the Riviera Maya, Mexico with his wife, Sahra, and two boys, Nashand Wynn. He also enjoys going to St. Louis Cardinals games, riding ATV’s, and is an avid cook using his Big Green

TALK:  Profit First For Landscapers

According to GAAP, or Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, the proper formula for determining a business’ profit is to take your total revenue and subtract your expenses, leaving you with your profit. In other words:

Sales - Expenses = Profit

This formula is widely accepted for calculating profits. While it seems simple, logical, and clear – there is a better way!

We recommend... Sales - PROFIT = Expenses!

Tune in as Adam talks how to make profit a habit in your business, not just an event!

3 Three Main Bullet Points of Talk:

  1. 83% of business owners are living paycheck to paycheck, let's fix that!
  2. Has your accountant said you're profitable, but you have NO CASH in the bank.
  3. Profit should be a habit...not an event!

Matt Bunch, Horticulturist

The Giving Grove

The Giving Grove



BIO:  Matt has 30 years experience in the horticulture field, in commercial, residential, municipal, botanical garden, and non-profit capacities. Matt is the Program Director of the Giving Grove orchard program of Kansas City Community Gardens, and the Horticulturist for The Giving Grove National Org. With the Giving Grove he has planted over 4000 trees with nearly 4000 people. All told he is responsible for at least 10,000 trees planted in yards, parks, campuses, and right-of-ways. When not planting and educating about trees and all things woody and herbaceous Matt enjoys gardening and searching out big trees near and far.

TALK:  Planting Trees and Growing Communities: Placemaking through sustainably grown food systems

The idea of urban orchards is not new, but The Giving Grove organization digs deep to find the resources to help other community organizations establish community orchards and orchard programs. This is done through education, matching funding, and resource sharing. This is an overview of the organization but geared towards those that are interested in growing perennial food crops while growing community.

3 Main Bullet Points of Talk

-Keys to starting a community orchard: right plants, the space to grow them, and the community behind them
-Ongoing education and community engagement are key to a community orchard's success
-Access to low cost resources make community orchards available to all


Hilary Noonan, MLA 

Principal of Syntax Land Design, LLC and Mad Hatter Compost Tea.

BIO:  Her work focuses on making every site she works on healthier through a dynamic systems design focus. She loves the combination of science, engineering, and art that the practice of landscape architecture affords her. She holds a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Kansas State University, 2009, a BA from Yale University, 1991, and a Certification in Permaculture, 2011. She is currently a candidate consultant of the Soil Food Web School. She continues her education at every opportunity and has had the good fortune to study with some of her heroes, Elaine Ingham, PhD, John Todd PhD, Leighton Morrison, Judith
Fitzpatrick, PhD and Dan Kittredge of Kittredge Farm and the Bio nutrient Food Association”.

TALK:  “Growing Rain, Growing Resilience” 



Jean Ponzi, 

Missouri Botanical Garden, Green Resources Manager


BIO:  Jean Ponzi serves as Green Resources Manager at Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. A 28-year veteran of the Garden’s EarthWays Center team, Green Jean currently applies her sustainability expertise as manager of the St. Louis Green Business Challenge, operator of the Garden’s Green Resources Info Service, and on the leadership team for the regional initiative BiodiverseCity St. Louis. Her enviro-interview show Earthworms has logged over 33 years of conversations through KDHX St. Louis Community Media, as her volunteer community service. Jean is in demand as a speaker, writer and media spokesperson, offering her audiences both practical options and ecological inspiration.


Rebecca Hankins

Forest ReLeaf of Missouri


BIO: Rebecca is passionate about plants and what they teach us about resiliency, diversity, partnership, and community. In her role at Forest ReLeaf, she advocates for environmental justice in communities suffering from low tree canopy. She believes that everyone deserves the benefits that trees bring. She loves hearing people’s tree stories. Rebecca earned her Certificate of Proficiency in Horticulture at St. Louis Community College – Meramec.


Cody Azotea

Focal Pointe Outdoor Solutions, Inc., Account Manager

(ISA IL-9771A and GNPC-22120901)

BIO: Senior account manager at Focal Pointe Outdoor Solutions, Inc. with 13 years of landscape experience in St. Louis. Currently overseeing landscape maintenance contract with Washington University in St. Louis Danforth and School of Medicine campuses. Passionate about horticulture and connecting people to plants. M.S. Southern Illinois
University - Carbondale, ISA certified arborist and Grow Native professional certification.


Angie Weber

Missouri Department of Conservation/Missouri

Community Resource Specialist

BIO: Botanical Gardenngie has over 20 years of experience in the fields of conservation planning, volunteer management, environmental consulting and native landscapes. In her collaborative role with the Missouri Department of
Conservation and Missouri Botanical Garden, Angie provides in-depth assistance to community organizations on the planning and installation of urban native landscapes that includes engaging volunteers in the stewardship of those spaces. She is also a technical expert for both the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance and MSD Project Clear Rainscaping Programs which involves application review, ground truthing projects and offering stormwater and native plant recommendations as needed. Angie also manages the EcoCrew volunteer program on behalf of the South Grand Community Improvement District and leads monthly workdays. She serves on the Partners for Native Landscaping planning committee, Board of Directors for the River des Peres Watershed Coalition nonprofit organization and is Chairperson for the Crestwood Beautification Committee. Angie received her Bachelor of Arts in
Environmental Studies and Biology from Drury University and earned a Master of Science in Biology with an emphasis in Ecology from St. Louis University.

TALK: Green Thinking for the Green Industry

PANEL TALK: Sustainability in operations coupled with capacity for ecological services can proliferate GREEN benefits for your enterprise: profit, people planet. St. Louis-based panels - experts, advocates, collaborators - share process insights through corporate, municipal, residential and community project examples from our industry's leading edge.

Presenters are Cody Azotea, Account Manager, Focal Pointe Outdoor Solutions; Rebecca Hankins, Partnership Coordinator, Forest ReLEAF of Missouri; Jean Ponzi, Manager St. Louis Green Business Challenge, Missouri Botanical Garden; and Angie Weber, Community Resource Specialist, Missouri Department of Conservation. Moderated discussion welcomes your thoughts and questions!


1 - Sustainability in company operations can boost profits by reducing waste as your team cultivates skills and credibility to help clients achieve sustainability goals (e.g. LEED and SITES certification, ESG and CSR reporting) - while growing community benefits.
2 - Ecological landscaping offerings and sustainable business practices can attract, diversify and keep the brightest person-power.
3. Local-to-regional partnerships, resources and plant communities will help you and your enterprise tap into practical, powerful Green practice.


Jeff Heller

The Green Executive                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              BIO:    Snow Consultant for The Green Executive
President - Innovative Maintenance Solutions
Certified Snow Professional designation through the Snow and Ice Management Association
Vice Chairman - Snow and Ice Management Association Foundation
Director - Snow and Ice Management Association Board

TALK:   RFP's - How to Navigate and Eventually Move Past Them

How to successfully navigate the RPF (Request for Proposal) process including: Best practices for managing the process, How and Why to question contract term, or identify missing ones that could cause issues during service delivery and how to build trust and relationships with your clients to make them loyal to you and not the RFP process

3 Main Bullet Points of Talk

Managing the RFP Process
Identifying pitfalls in the process
Building trust with your clients



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