This article by Brenda Harvieux originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Northern Gardener.
The Summer Food and Fun program of the Pine County Master Gardeners provides food, education and activities for youth who were supported during the school year by the Pine City Backpack program. “Fifty percent of youth here receive free and reduced cost lunches,” says Terry Salmela, the Pine County Extension Master Gardener coordinator. “In the summer, there were no food programs, so we got involved.”
The community pulled together to make the program available: Hands 4 Pine City, Master Gardeners, SNAP, Pine County 4-H, local churches, Family Pathways, Pine Center for the Arts, Pine City Schools and the Pine City Backpack Program were all involved.
Three garden plots and raised beds in the Pine City Community Garden are dedicated to the program with weekly lessons from Master Gardeners on topics such as soil preparation, composting, good and bad bugs and harvesting. Thirteen children exhibited vegetables or flowers at the Pine County Fair after participating in the program.
Many participants had never experienced the vegetables grown before, but over the season, they gained confidence in how to grow food and prepare it. They took lots of produce home from the almost 400 pounds harvested. They even negotiated with each other on who got to take what veggies home each week. Their harvest was used to prepare their noon meal at the school too and more than 150 pounds was donated to the Pine City Food Shelf.
“Part of the fun for the kids was seeing how the garden grew every week,” says Terry. “They really learned to appreciate food and where it comes from. It was like discovering a free treasure.”