Growing Gardeners

by Laura Kross  

Potlatch GardenT­­wo University of Idaho Extension 4-H Afterschool programs are teaching kids to garden to get them involved in growing and sharing locally grown foods.

The Potlatch Kids’ Co-op Garden and Plummer’s Success Center Garden both teach grade school kids about gardening, from planting and weeding to watering and harvesting.

“The kids really have a lot of fun out there,” said Becky Walrod, garden consultant for the One Sky One Earth Food Coalition in charge of the Success Center Garden. “They like to eat the food they grow themselves.”

Along with enjoying the variety of fruits and vegetables they grow, kids also get the chance to share their hard work with the community.

Gardening with mentors

The Idaho Master Gardener program also is working to connect kids to their food through gardening. This year they are launching a new mentor program that pairs certified Idaho Master Gardeners with schools that received a $2,000 grant for a school garden from the Idaho Department of Education’s Child Nutrition Program.

Idaho Master Gardeners already provide service to the public in counties statewide.  Project leader Ariel Agenbroad, UI Extension Canyon County horticulture   educator at Caldwell, said many already have been working with schools and community gardens.

During this pilot year, mentors were chosen to help 11 schools and childcare centers manage their own gardens by providing technical expertise and assisting garden leadership teams with horticultural issues.
For the Potlatch Kids’ Co-op Garden, the young gardeners deliver their produce to seniors and allow community members to take what they need. Consumers have the option of making a donation.

“That’s why we named it the co-op garden – the goal is to link community with the kids,” said Heather Cummins, UI Extension afterschool program coordinator in charge of the garden. “We want to make connections across the community.”

At Plummer, the Success Center Garden has been selling its produce at the local farmers market, with the proceeds used to continue funding the garden.

“It definitely brings a return for the kids, and it shows them that with the hard work, they are getting something out of it,” said Yolanda Bone, afterschool program director for Plummer’s Success Center.

Both gardens began as vacant land on school grounds. Now, the Success Center Garden located behind Lakeside Elementary School boasts nine raised beds measuring 4-by-8 feet. The school supplies the land and water, and the kids grow a variety of produce, including strawberries, bitter garlic, potatoes, carrots, radishes, beets, lettuce, kale and green beans.

Potlatch’s terrace garden

The Potlatch Kids’ Co-op Garden rests on a terraced hillside plot donated by Potlatch Elementary School. It grew cabbage, sunflowers, squash, pumpkins, corn, lettuce and peas this past season.

The afterschool programs that run the gardens were both funded through a Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) grant, a five-year program through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Each site is seeking additional support to continue afterschool programming past the fifth year. At the Potlatch site, the Kids’ Co-op Garden is one aspect of the program, said Maureen Toomey, UI Extension associate at the Caldwell Research and Extension Center. Toomey directs the CYFAR grant for three sites in Latah, Canyon, and Boundary counties.

The Potlatch Kids’ Co-op Garden goes in line with what the CYFAR grant does for 4-H, said Kelli Loftus, who oversees the Potlatch afterschool program and serves as UI Extension associate for 4-H in Latah County.
“One of the elements is healthy living, and we wanted to have the kids have a connection to their food,” Loftus said.

The CYFAR grant funds the afterschool program. Cummins and Loftus sought additional support for the garden, winning grants from the Latah County Community Foundation, Potlatch Community Foundation and Whole Foods.

Plummer’s Success Center Garden was jump-started by the CYFAR grant awarded in 2008. The garden is now a partnership between UI Extension and the local One Sky One Earth Food Coalition.

That joint partnership became part of the larger 4-H program goals of teaching science and healthy living, Toomey said.

Knowing about food

“Gardening is a great way to launch understanding of the whole food chain and food consumption,” Toomey said. “It ties together that connection between where food comes from and what they’re consuming.”
Working with schools helps University of Idaho Extension’s Idaho Master Gardeners program, too, said Canyon County’s Agenbroad.

“This is a great opportunity for Idaho Master Gardeners to continue to ‘grow’ as volunteers and serve their communities,” Agenbroad said. “They see that real need to connect kids to farming and agriculture through gardening.”

Jennifer Brown, Idaho Master Gardener mentor for Ms. Amy’s Daycare in Fruitland, has worked in early childhood education for years. Her background is ideal for mentors working with schools across Idaho.
“I was ecstatic when this opportunity came up because it just brings education and gardening together,” Brown said.

In many communities, schools are out for the summer, but gardens will continue to grow with help from their students, teachers, parent volunteers and the Idaho Master Gardener mentors, Agenbroad said.
The Idaho Department of Education program funded a range of schools from Coeur d’Alene’s Fernan Elementary to Boise’s Borah High School. Other participants include the Moscow Charter School, Mountain Home Air Force Base Youth Programs, Troy Elementary in Troy, Little People’s Academy in Idaho Falls, Parma Learning Center in Parma, Tater Tots Child Care in American Falls, Heritage Community Charter School in Caldwell, Meridian Middle School in Meridian, Ms. Amy's Daycare in Fruitland and Kellogg Middle School in Kellogg.

In addition to gardening and developing an appreciation for agriculture, Agenbroad said, the young gardeners will enjoy the healthy fruits, and vegetables, of their labors. She hopes they will take home their new appreciation for fresh produce and gardening.

Find more stories in Programs and People magazine.