Cultivating an interest in gardening – Volunteers welcome!
by Susan Wilhem, Master Gardener Intern
Basic gardening provides an exciting opportunity to help young people develop curiosity about and appreciation of gardening and the natural world. In Arlington and Alexandria, 4-H and Master Gardeners collaborate to do this through the 4-H Junior Master Gardeners program.
4-H is the biggest and oldest youth development program in the United States. Similar to Master Gardeners, 4-H operates under the auspices of the Cooperative Extension Service which began as a way for state land-grant universities to distribute research-based agricultural knowledge and expertise to the public. The focus of the 4-H program was on young people, who were viewed as more open to new ideas at 4-H’s founding in 1902. While agricultural best practices are still components of 4-H in rural areas, in Arlington and Alexandria, 4-H provides young people the opportunity to acquire leadership, citizenship, and life skills through a variety of programming. One of these programs is the Junior Master Gardeners program.
The goal of Junior Master Gardeners is to pair teams of Master Gardeners with children in schools to teach basic gardening skills. Programs are conducted after school and the program content varies depending on the seasons and the interests of the Master Gardeners involved. For example, Master Gardeners ran an after-school program at Barrett Elementary School (Arlington) where students learned how to plant and maintain a vegetable garden. Students celebrated their gardening success by eating what they produced. At Patrick Henry Elementary (Arlington), Master Gardeners led a month-long, after-school program where students learned about soils, water and insects.
Flexibility is a key component of Junior Master Gardeners in Arlington, where the programs are designed around specific Master Gardeners’ interests. A Junior Master Gardeners Curriculum. is also available for volunteers looking for ideas.
Are you concerned you do not know enough to teach gardening to children? No worries! Caitlin Verdu, Associate Extension Agent 4-H Youth Development in Arlington County, sees the Junior Master Gardeners program as a learning opportunity for both adults and students who participate. “If you go in with an open-mind and are prepared to be flexible, everyone will have a great time,” she says. “Master Gardeners who have participated in the past tell me they really enjoyed it!”
The Arlington 4-H Junior Master Gardeners program seeks a six week commitment from Master Gardeners, though circumstances in individual schools may result in shorter program cycles. Training is provided and school staff are available at volunteer sites to assist. In addition to other Master Gardener volunteers, several 2016 Master Gardener interns will be volunteering at Junior Master Gardeners sites at Arlington elementary schools this spring as their Intern Projects.
In Alexandria, the Junior Master Gardeners program is partnering with the Power-On Out Of School Time Program at MacArthur Elementary School to offer Jr. Master Gardeners training to thirty-five 3rd– 5th graders. This program is scheduled to begin at the end of March and run through June 14, 2017. It will use the 4-H Junior Master Gardeners Curriculum.
Volunteers are always welcome.