Area youth gain knowledge through gardening

Behind the Boys and Girls Club in Harmar are multiple raised garden beds, called the “Learning Gardens,” which are used to teach students about gardening and horticulture, healthy living, and healthy foods and nutrition. This program focuses on eating proper nutritious foods to provide the essentials nutrients our bodies need; an understanding of where food comes from and how much work and input is require to produce this food; the healthy benefits gardening provides, both physically and mentally; and the natural sciences consisting of botany, plant pathology, soil science, and entomology.

This program is just beginning but there is already excitement and joy in the air. The students are super motivated, eager to learn, and enthusiastic with anticipation of watching their hard work pay off in the form of edible produce to eat and take home to share with family members. Our strategy with the garden was to give the students ownership of the garden area and this strategy has really paid off. From the start, the students were told time and time again, that these are not the adults’ gardens but rather their (the students’) garden. This student ownership and “buy-in” all started with one simple question after each was handed a seed catalog: “what do you want to grow and eat”? As a result, the kids are more than willing (without being told) to pick up trash, remove rocks and debris, and to put away their gardening tools to keep the area looking tidy, organized, safe, and clean. The students are very proud of their new greenspace and garden area; so much that when their parents come to pick them up, they have to show and escort them to the garden area so their parents can see what they have done and are doing.

The Learning Garden program is broken down into three time periods: spring, summer, and fall. During the spring and fall sessions, time is a limiting factor so we have to be efficient with our time use. We typically have a small lesson followed by lots of good old fashion hard work like planting and soil prep during the spring and harvesting and cleaning during the fall. However, during the summer session there is significantly more time to work with the students so this is when we focus more heavily on the educational component of the program.

This spring we have a total of five 45 minute weekly sessions. During this time the students are physically working in the garden by: turning the soil; hand-pulling weeds; planting broccoli, Brussel sprouts, carrots, cabbage, corn, Swiss chard, spinach, three varieties of tomatoes, two varieties of peppers, eggplants, sunflowers, and marigolds; and watering. The lessons we are covering include: planting and spacing (math), what plants need to grow, seed development, the life cycles of plants, and the troublesome dangerous weed — poison hemlock. Now since most of the garden beds are planted, the remaining spring lessons will focus on nutrition and healthy lifestyles. However, there are a surprising number of “teaching moments” that present themselves in the garden when working with a group of teen and preteen students.

The Learning Garden program will official kick-off with the start of the summer session on June 6. The summer session will contain two weekly half-day programs on Tuesdays and Fridays. The Tuesday sessions will focus on horticulture education, the Friday session with focus on nutrition and healthy living, and both days will involve garden maintenance (watering, weeding, and harvesting fruits and vegetables).

This program is being implemented through the Ohio State University Extension service and made possible with the approval of the Boys and Girls club, donations from local businesses, and awards from local grants including the Marietta Community Foundation and the Washington County Creating Healthy Communities program.

For question about the Learning Gardens or ways to donate or contribute to this valuable community program, please contact Marcus McCartney at the Washington County OSU extension office in Marietta: 740-376-7431.

Marcus McCartney is ANR Educator at The Ohio State University Extension for Washington County. Creating Healthy Communities column (CHC) appears monthly on the Life page.