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Question: What do you get when you cross the savvy leadership training skills of 4-H with a Bridgeport, CT school that wants to teach kids responsibility through gardening?
Answer: The Barnum School 4-H Garden.
I recently visited this wonderful school garden and met some of the kids who plant and take care of it: Elizabeth, Indarra, Leslie, Melissa, and Miriam, along with Alex, who volunteers to help out. They gave me a tour of their hard work and rightfully took pride in all they had done.
They are growing a wonderful variety of fresh vegetables and even have a couple of apple trees which are just beginning to produce.
The tomato plants were about as healthy looking as you could hope for and had some very large tomatoes just starting to ripen. As we went from bed to bed, they kept showing me, with the excitement of new gardeners, how well everything was growing.
The cantaloupe and cucumbers were setting fruit, the carrots, beets, collard greens and kale were thriving. And the tomatillos were prolific.
In fact, I watched them harvest a large basket of veggies and watched their excitement to discover the potatoes were ready. They kept finding more.
“But why is this bed empty?” I asked. “Oh, that’s where we harvested our garlic last week,” was the reply.
Unfortunately not everything was doing so well. One of the zucchini plants had the tell tale signs of a squash vine borer. So I showed them how to carefully find it and dig it out without doing any more harm to the plant. Nobody had a knife, so one of the teachers let me use her key to poke that little critter out. There were sudden squeals of “Eeeewwh!” which quickly turned into curiosity and then they wanted to step on it to make sure it would not invade their garden one moment longer. The vine was still pretty healthy and will hopefully make it.
Now these kids are learning the basic gardening skills of planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, etc. When they were picking the tomatillos, for example, they learned to look for the ones that were ripe by examining the papery shells. They realized that the carrots had been planted a little too close together and hadn’t been thinned out. That’s why some of them were so small. They are learning the things we all have learned as we try new things and new ideas in the garden.
I asked what they liked best about gardening. “Planting, watering, harvesting.” “Watching everything grow!” “Eating what you grow yourself.”
After the tour/harvest of the garden, I sat in on their class. The lesson of the day: Insects in the garden. Did you know that a ladybug’s wings beat 85 times a second?
There are 25 kids in the Barnum School Garden Club. The program, which runs most of the school year, except the dead of winter, and part of the summer, is two years old. Half the kids come on Mondays and Wednesdays. The others come on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Debbi Forgette, who is a Special Ed Para for pre-K to 2nd grade during the school year, is the teacher.
Debbi explained how important this program has been to all the kids involved:
“It has a calming effect on them. We all work together as a team. We learn how to cook and it gives them opportunities to grow in various ways and helps develop their leadership skills.”
But it’s not just about gardening. One guest speaker taught them how to make a video presentation. Another class focused on how marketers package and place their products in stores to get more people to buy them. We are talking about life lessons here–which is the cornerstone of 4-H.
But the Barnum School Garden Club and it’s very productive garden didn’t just happen. There were many helping hands involved all along the way. Ede Valiquette, 4-H Director for Fairfield County, CT visited several schools in the area looking for the right fit and Barnum School Principal, Dr. Ralph Paladino, caught the vision. Many volunteer hours were racked up in constructing the numerous raised beds and Grillo Services, an organic landscape supply company in Milford, CT contributed bags and bags and bags of organic soil for the garden (this stuff was wonderful). Kerry Karlson, a Master Gardener, designed and helped the kids plant the garden. The Site Coordinator, Veronica Swain, helps in every phase of the project including teaching the classes.
If your kids have the good fortune to be at Barnum School, they should run, not walk, to sign up for this program. Okay, it’s a school, so they better not run down the halls, but they should “walk fast” and put their names on the list. Alas! for those who do not attend Barnum. The program is exclusively for students at the school.
If you are interested in starting a garden project at your kids’ school, a good place to start is with your local 4-H office. 4-H is well connected with each state’s Extension Service and can offer ideas and perhaps support to get you started.
At the end of the class on insects, it was time for refreshments and I heartily gulped down the nice, cold lemonade as I reflected on what I had just witnessed. I was very impressed with this group of young gardeners. Some had never grown anything before. The garden itself is fabulous. The kids are learning about growing and eating healthy food, and developing some wonderful life skills in the process.
As I walked out of the classroom, I said goodbye to eager faces and a large basket of just-picked veggies. Some they will eat in class and some will go home to their families. Sweet!
What do you think about these kids? Aren’t they great? Give them a shout out in the comment section below.
Here’s to the new generation of gardeners all over the world,James Early Organic Gardening 365 Helping you get the most out of your garden
If you are involved in a community or school gardening project, I would love to hear about it and feature you here. Just leave a comment below or contact me directly.
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