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 (EMGs) collaborate to do this through the 4-H Junior Master Gardener program (JMG).
4-H is the largest youth development program in the United States. Like EMGs, 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. Founded in 1902, the 4-H program focused on young people who were viewed as more open to new ideas. 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 JMG.
JMG pairs teams of EMGs 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. For example, students may learn how to plant and maintain a vegetable garden, understand the importance of fresh, local foods by eating what they grow, and how to interact with visitors to their gardens. Other topics include pollinators, composting, soils, water, insects, and vermiculture. Additional information is available at JMG Curriculum and JMG Program Overview.
Whether learning about animal habitat while making gourd birdhouses or developing communication skills by debating two sides of an environmental issue, JMG is about learning by doing, and having fun along the way.