This article by Brenda Harvieux originally appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Northern Gardener.
“The goal of the Children’s Garden in Residence at St. Paul City School is to bring elementary school kids a hands-on curriculum based on gardening,” says Jamie Aussendorf, the Ramsey County Master Gardener administrator of the program. She’s joined by three master gardeners, plus educators from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and Ann Luke, a University of Minnesota Extension SNAP educator.
The program started at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in the early 1980s as an urban gardening program. It evolved over the years, and the master gardeners received a grant to develop curriculum for a children’s gardening program that other garden groups could replicate in their areas.
At the St. Paul City School, kids meet weekly over the summer for a two-hour session. They are divided into groups and rotate among three lessons: plant science, garden know-how and nutrition. Part of the nutrition lesson includes making a snack from garden produce. “When they know about the plants the produce comes from and watch each ingredient being added, they’re jazzed to try the snack,” says Ann. “More often than not, they are asking for seconds.” Kids are given all the ingredients to take home and make the snack again for themselves and their family.
Now, the program is branching out further into a training program for master gardeners from additional counties to replicate with other youth programs. “It helps the master gardeners cross pollinate and work together as we bring education to the community,” says Jamie.
For Ann, the best part is witnessing the moment of discovery on a child’s face: “A six-year-old girl picked a green pepper from the garden and ate it like an apple. She thoroughly enjoyed it! That’s a joyful experience as an educator.”