- Who We Are
- Who We Can Help
- How We Can Help
- Youth Education Projects
- Youth Education Partners
- Success Stories: Alexandria Projects
- Success Stories: Arlington Programs
Who We Are
The Youth Education Program! (YEP!) is a newly organized committee within the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia (MGNV) comprised of Extension Master Gardeners (EMGs). Our EMGs partner with schools and other youth organizations and initiatives in Alexandria City, Arlington County, and Falls Church City to teach the fundamentals of gardening and environmental sustainability. Basic gardening education provides an exciting opportunity for young people to develop curiosity about and appreciation for gardening and caring for our natural world. Our goal is to empower kids (and the adults who teach them) to grow food, build healthy soil, and benefit our ecosystem by planting native plants.
MGNV has a long and successful history of working with youth in Alexandria City, Arlington County, and Falls Church City. A key goal for YEP! is to serve as an umbrella organization for MGNV’s numerous forms of youth outreach and to centralize and track our impact. By demonstrating the difference we make, we can continue to obtain funding and support for our young gardeners and youth educators. For that reason, filling out our school survey and/or our public intake form (for all other requests), is a priority when seeking our assistance. Before filling out those forms, please scroll down to learn more about us.
Who We Can Help
Extension Master Gardeners (EMGs) are grouped and organized by geographic location. The Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia (MGNV) serve youth in Alexandria City, Arlington County, and Falls Church City. Of course, regardless of where you live, please take advantage of our free downloadable youth gardening activities available on this website. If you live outside of Alexandria City, Arlington County, or Falls Church City and are seeking live instruction from an EMG in Virginia, please see this list of Master Gardener organizations in Virginia.
Our work with children and youth often, but not always, takes place at a school. We can provide classroom assistance during school, help with after-school clubs, and, of course, also provide guidance and instruction for on-site school gardens.
We also assist many nonschool youth organizations, such as scouting programs, community youth gardens, and faith-based programs. To get an idea of the ways in which we can help, see How We Can Help below and visit our Success Stories. Please reach out if you have a youth group in need of assistance.
How We Can Help
We are excited about your interest in having EMGs help with your youth gardening needs!
EMGs are volunteer educators with knowledge and experience in sustainable gardening. With respect to youth education, you can find us volunteering our time and demonstrating gardening techniques in classrooms, after-school clubs, school gardens, scouting events, and demonstration gardens. Our goal is to empower children and their caregivers to garden successfully and grow plants in a sustainable way.
People often ask whether we work directly with kids or their caregivers (parents, teachers, or community garden leaders). The short answer is that we do both! We have training specially designed for teachers or other community leaders interested in starting or maintaining a school garden or other youth garden project. At the same time, we also routinely work directly with children of all ages, with support from caregivers. In fact, we even have many kid-friendly educational activities that you can download and do on your own.
We currently have three focus areas for youth education:
- Grow Your Own Food
- Build Healthy Soil
- Plant Natives to Benefit Our Local Ecology
EMGs Work Directly with Kids or with Adults Who Oversee Youth Gardens
EMG Youth Educator
- During School
- After-school Club
- Scouting and Community Events
EMG Adult Educator
- School Garden Technical Consultant
Our ability to assist in any of these capacities is dependent upon having EMGs available to assign to your project. Organizations should understand we are still growing our membership and that our capacity to customize our offerings is limited.
Please be aware that EMG volunteers should not be asked to fund supplies needed (compost, soil, mulch, or tools). Likewise, if your EMG volunteer is helping you with a school garden or other ongoing project, they are not responsible for the ongoing and sustained labor needed to make your youth gardens a success. We provide the know-how, and you provide the eager children (and caregivers) prepared to learn and take action.
As we continue to grow, we hope one day to establish a special youth gardening toolshed, with “loaner” tools, gloves, and supplies for kids to use. Please let us know if you would like to donate these supplies or to support with dollars earmarked for “youth gardening toolshed” by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
School Garden Considerations
The school garden concept is taking off as young people seek concrete learning opportunities to make a difference in their communities. School gardens as outdoor classrooms can enhance teacher lesson plans, involve students in real-world application of STEM and STEAM academics, ignite interest in agriculture-related job fields, and demonstrate community sustainability goals across the calendar year.
School gardens provide teaching opportunities, hands-on learning experiences, and nutritious produce for consumption in classrooms and lunchrooms and by school community families and local food pantries. School garden programs develop students’ appreciation of “where their food comes from” and lifelong skills they can use to grow their own food.
School garden projects also help students gain leadership and collaboration skills, as well as firsthand knowledge of how growing food addresses equity and food security goals in their communities. Finally, in localities as dense as Alexandria and Arlington, school gardens carve out and nurture vital open space for wildlife and beneficial insects, not to mention for students, teachers, and community members.
You may be interested in starting or revitalizing a youth garden and need advice about how to go about it. The following topics are useful to consider, and we are happy to advise you:
- Infrastructure/Design (understanding how to build a garden, the tools and materials required, the effort involved, workforce needed, site evaluation, access to water, timing)
- Planning (identifying relevant stakeholders, obtaining funding, finding volunteers)
- Site Evaluation (identifying water access, drainage, sunlight, soil composition/testing)
- Type of garden best suited to your site (vegetable/natives/pollinators/ornamentals/herbs/scented garden/rain garden)
- Plant Selection/Planting Calendar (deciding best plants based on site evaluation and water access)
- Soil Management (composting, soil testing, drainage)
- Human Sustainability (funding and volunteer support from parents, teachers, community)
- Curriculum (age-appropriate lesson planning of projects and activities through the seasons)
Steps To Obtain EMG Assistance
Your opinions are important to us! Evaluations are a critical part of our youth gardening activities (and are Step 6 in our process). We continually seek to improve our offerings and would love to have your assessment.
We want to hear from both kids and adults who participated in a gardening activity with Extension Master Gardeners. Please tell us your favorite part of the experience and the ways in which the event(s) could be even better!
- Kid Evaluation for Ages 4/5–7 Years
- Kid Evaluation for Ages 8+ Years
- Adult Evaluation for Any Youth Gardening Activity (kids of any age)
Youth Education Projects
Youth Activity Resources
Developed by Extension Master Gardeners in 2022, these resources support the development of children and youth in garden education. Younger children may require parental guidance. All children will require materials and instructions to complete any activities.
Build Healthy Soils
Demonstration Garden Scavenger Hunts
Looking for a great way to have some fun while getting to know native plants? Try our Scavenger Hunts! Our inaugural Scavenger Hunt is at Simpson Park Demonstration Garden in Alexandria.
Use your phone to click on Simpson Gardens Native Plant Scavenger Hunt (no software downloads required!) and be guided through a step-by-step hunt through the garden, with plenty of clues about where to find plants and trees. Learn the identity of native plants and fun facts about them. Answers are provided as you go. The activity usually takes less than one hour to complete; but there is no time limit, and you may do as much or as little as you like. This is a great activity for families, playdates, friends, or any garden enthusiast seeking to add some challenge to their garden walk. Please be mindful of staying on the paths to protect our plantings! Enjoy!
More scavenger hunts in other Demonstration Gardens to come!
Youth Education Partners
The 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program
In Arlington and Alexandria, the 4-H Junior Master Gardener program pairs teams of EMGs with students in public schools. EMGs work with on-site school staff to offer programs after school for grades 1–5 in spring and fall. Topics vary by site.
To learn more about this program, visit The 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program.
Friends of Urban Agriculture (FOUA) – Schoolyard Gardening
EMGs support children’s gardening programs in collaboration with Friends of Urban Agriculture (FOUA). FOUA offers technical assistance and other support to a growing list of school gardens in Arlington, connecting students and teachers to volunteers and other resources to bring their gardening visions to life.
To learn more about growing school gardens in Arlington, visit School Gardens on the FOUA website.