This article originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Northern Gardener.
Teaming up with Mankato Area Public Schools and Blue Earth County State Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP), the Minnesota River Valley Master Gardeners helped the staff and youth participants in the district’s after-school childcare program plant 4-by-12-foot raised bed vegetable gardens last summer. The program serves children kindergarten to fifth grade before and after school and on non-school days, including over the summer. Gardens were planted at six schools: Kennedy, Eagle Lake, Franklin, Rosa Parks, Roosevelt and Hoover; and a Master Gardener taught a basic gardening class to the program supervisors and assisted each group all summer.
Interested students had an opportunity to participate in a garden club, learning about vegetable gardening, weeding, watering and harvesting from the Master Gardeners. “The kids loved watering; having a hose out there was an attraction,” says Diane DeWitte, the Master Gardener coordinator for the six school locations. Using lesson plans created by Blue Earth County SHIP, program supervisors taught students about plants, cultivation, irrigation, photosynthesis, food and nutrition.
“By the end of the season, more kids had gravitated to the gardens than we had started with,” says Diane. Out of the peppers, tomatoes, beans, spinach, broccoli, potatoes and watermelon planted, the tomatoes were the biggest hit. “I was not expecting that they’d like the tomatoes so much—and they even enjoyed eating broccoli!” It was a great experience for all involved, and the Master Gardeners hope to continue working with the summer program next year.