This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of Northern Gardener.

It was a natural partnership—a world-class health organization looking for ways to promote growing fresh vegetables and a group of experienced gardeners eager to serve their community. When the Mayo Clinic reached out to the Dodge County Master Gardeners in 2017, both groups were excited to dig into a new collaboration: building raised garden beds for vegetables and flowers at the Kasson Clinic.

child planting with master gardeners

Children love learning to grow their own food.

With funding from the Mayo Clinic, local Eagle Scouts built several raised beds. Then, Dodge County Master Gardeners and parents, children and teachers form Just Like Home (JLH) daycare center planted the beds together. After learning from the master gardeners about weeding, watering, deadheading and looking for diseases and insects, JLH children and teachers took care of the beds all summer long.

“One of the best ways to get kids interested is by having them do hands-on projects where they can literally get their hands dirty,” says Seanne Buckwalter, master gardener and project lead. “The kids loved planting the boxes and took pride in the project.”

In the spring of 2019, they planted a salsa garden, full of tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro and other healthy ingredients. At the end of the summer, the children harvested the produce and made a big batch of salsa to enjoy together.

While COVID-19 prevented the groups from growing together this summer, they are already planning a pizza- or spaghetti sauce-themed garden for next year. Many of the participants also brought their new skills home, growing and eating their own vegetables. As Buckwalter points out, they have “learned a hobby then can do all their life.”

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