Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners are provide gardening and nutrition education to the youth of Arlington County and the City of Alexandria in a variety of ways.
Basic gardening provides an exciting opportunity for young people to develop curiosity about and appreciation for gardening and the natural world. In Arlington and Alexandria, 4-H and Extension Master Gardeners collaborate to do this through the 4-H Junior Master Gardener program.
The 4-H Junior Master Gardener program pairs teams of Extension Master Gardeners with students in Alexandria and Arlington public schools. EMGs work with on-site school staff. Programs are offered after school (grades 1–5) in the spring and fall, and topics vary by site.
In 2010, the City of Alexandria worked with Extension Master Gardeners to create the children’s garden at Tancil Court adjacent to the Ruby Tucker Center, which provides after-school programming and other family services to the residents in the surrounding area. The idea was for kids to be more active outside and learn about healthy food choices while having fun.
Preschoolers through fourth graders at the public housing project learn through gardening that vegetables start life from seeds — not in cans, boxes or encased in plastic. Coached by Master Gardeners, the children learn how to plant, cultivate, harvest and use vegetables, fruits and herbs in healthy snacks.
Individual EMG School Involvement – Alexandria
Chapel in the Woods
EMG: Nancy Davis
For more than four years, Beth El religious school students and their parents have played an active role in restoring the 2-acre forest behind the synagogue at 3830 Seminary Rd., Alexandria. The forest is called the Chapel in the Woods, as it has a prayer circle and two teaching circles that provide places for services and quiet meditation in addition to walking, playing and gardening. Although the kindergarten through seventh-grade classes visit the forest no more than twice a year, the environmental preservation theme has become very much a part of the curriculum year-round. Giving back to the earth, “tikkun olam,” is taught and practiced. Kids and parents help clear the woods of invasive species and replant with native trees, shrubs and perennials.
William Ramsey Elementary School
EMG: Bob Besse
In the fall of 2021, Peter Ehmann-Jones, a fifth-grade teacher at William Ramsay Elementary School, obtained a grant from the National Audubon Society to create a native plant garden. His goal is to teach children about the importance of native plants and sustainable gardening practices, and the fun of digging in dirt. EMG Bob Besse collaborated with Peter on his garden design, and together with EMGs Charles Gardner and Mary Lou Leary, helped bring it to life. Bob continues to provide ongoing support for the project.
Individual EMG School Involvement – Arlington
Washington-Liberty Victory Garden Club
EMG Elizabeth Collaton, EMG Anne Braghetta, and VCE Extension Agent Kirsten Conrad and FOUA member David Sachs
The Club meets weekly on Mondays after school, usually meeting first with their teacher sponsor, and then heading outside for hands-on activities. These activities have included: garden cleanup; cover crop and winter vegetable planting; designing, planning and building a second raised garden bed; installing a storage bench; securing a second rain barrel; fundraising at the holiday bazaar for the club; networking with other student clubs to maximize involvement and cooperation; design, planning, and writing memos and proposals to support the expansion of the Club’s efforts to include a second garden site.
EMG support includes troubleshooting various gardening and site challenges, such as the removal of some invasive plants and solving some erosion issues adjacent to the raised bed. Education topics have included soil health; climate change; working effectively with school administrators; fundraising; and innovative small-space gardening strategies, including vertical gardening.
Carlin Springs Elementary School
EMG Nancy M. Davis, EMG Valerie LaTortue, EMG Intern Richard Derbyshire and Master Naturalist Kathy Reeder
From April to June 2022, 16 students at Carlin Springs School participated in two weekly after-school garden clubs. One was part of the school’s club program and the other was an extended-day activity. Each were held back-to-back for eight kids and led by master gardeners Nancy M. Davis, Valerie LaTortue, intern Richard Derbyshire and master naturalist Kathy Reeder. This year, the curriculum focused on building and then planting in three raised beds using the hügelkultur method that calls for laying sticks, leaves and mulch under the soil to generate nutrients and heat.
Schoolyard Gardening with FOUA – Arlington
Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners support children’s gardening programs in collaboration with Friends of Urban Agriculture (FOUA).
FOUA supports a growing list of school gardens in Arlington, connecting students and teachers to volunteers and other resources to bring their gardening visions to life. 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 for students, hands-on learning experiences, nutritious produce for consumption in classrooms and lunchrooms, and provide much-needed fresh produce to school community families and local food pantries. School garden programs develop students’ appreciation of “where their food comes from” and develop life-long skills they can use to grow their own food.
Furthermore, school garden projects help students gain leadership and collaboration skills, as well as first-hand knowledge of how growing food addresses equity and food security goals in their communities. Finally, in a county as dense as Arlington, school gardens carve out and nurture vital open space for wildlife and beneficial insects, not to mention students, teachers and community members.
To learn more about growing school gardens in Arlington, visit School Gardens on the FOUA website.
Extension Master Gardeners are encouraged to volunteer to collaborate with schoolyard gardening projects at the following Arlington County schools:
- Carlin Springs
- Science Focus
- Washington-Liberty Victory Garden Club
2022 Youth Education Activity Resources
Developed by Extension Master Gardeners in 2022, these monthly fliers 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.
- January 2022 Gardening in Winter
- February 2022 Pruning
- March 2022 Planning and Planting Vegetables
- April 2022 Learning About Trees
- May 2022 National Herb Week
- June 2022 Pollinators
- July 2022 Basic Composting
- August 2022 Fall Planting
- September 2022 Plant Invaders!
Plant Invaders Flyer – Virginia’s Dirty Dozen