In an age when childhood obesity is a real concern and when children are pulled indoors by the attraction of video and computer games, gardening can be a welcome solution. Gardening can not only get kids active and outdoors, it can get them excited about eating healthy food that they’ve grown themselves. Growing a garden can become a lifelong activity that can lead to a healthy, active life.
Michigan State University Extension Kent County coordinated the Junior Master Gardener (JMG) Program in Grand Rapids and Lowell during the summers of 2010 and 2011. The once-a-week 10- to 12-week program involved Kent County fourth through sixth graders with 11 to 22 children participating depending on the year and location.
Grand Rapids Junior Master Gardener students and parents plant an herb garden at the MSU Extension Kent County Office at a May 21, 2011, planting party. Photo by Kendra Wills.
Besides getting a lot of exercise by working in the garden, kids participated in a garden-related craft activity and learned about nutrition while making a healthy snack. The children went on field trips to various locations including a local greenhouse, a food pantry, an apiary and a daylily garden where they learned how to pollinate daylilies. Amy Irish-Brown, Extension educator, was their tour guide when they visited Clarksville Research Center, part of MSU’s AgBioResearch. They even operated a farm stand at a local farmers market and learned from two local chefs how to properly cut fruits, vegetables and herbs from their garden for cooking and eating.
The kids did homework. Homework in the summer? That’s right. But I’m told this was homework that the kids got excited about. Kids read from their Junior Master Gardener workbooks (Texas A&M 4-H curricula) and cooked with produce from their JMG gardens. At the last class, a recipe book of all the students’ recipes was compiled and printed for everyone to take home.
Extension educator Kendra Wills coordinated both the Grand Rapids and Lowell programs this summer. Extension educator Rebecca Finneran lent her help and expertise in Grand Rapids with the support of the MSU Extension Kent County Master Gardener Program. The Lowell Area Schools, Lowell Community Wellness and the Lowell Area Community Fund supported the Lowell program.
Grand Rapids Junior Master student shows off a flower at a Kent County Master Gardener's home daylily garden in July 2011. The participants learned how to pollinate daylilies and create their own cross breeds. Photo by Kendra Wills.
Although this effort technically falls under the MSU Extension Greening Michigan Institute, it really connects all the institutes because it provides education on agriculture to children and youth, promotes health and nutrition, and supports the creation of local food systems.