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Growing Entrepreneurs through 4-H Gardens

Photo credit: Zulema Wibmer, 4-H Program Assistant, Leon County 4-H Office

Photo credit: Zulema Wibmer, 4-H Program Assistant, Leon County 4-H Office

Garden-based education is taking America by storm. While this is concept dates as far back as the seventeenth century, it certainly feels like the popular movement of the day. 4-H has been using garden based education since 1902 with tomato and corn clubs to teach life skills such as resiliency, planning and organizing, and communication. These same skills are necessary to become a successful entrepreneur:

Resiliency: the ability to try again after failure. A garden is the perfect place for youth to test ideas or try new things. As adults, we know that sometimes the key to success is (safe) failure! If you are using a garden your classroom, allow creative experimentation. Success will build on itself and trials that missed the mark will make for more lively discussion and group cohesion.

Planning/organizing: the process of figuring out what to do (planning) and how to do it (organizing). Whether you are starting new or continuing an existing project, allowing the expression of youth ideas and goals – followed by their help implementing these plans – is crucial to your project’s success. Remember, we can grow all the vegetables in the world, but if the youth don’t learn or feel a sense of accomplishment related to the project, all we did was grow vegetables.

Communication: the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, signals, writing, or behavior. In today’s tech savy world, we are losing the ability to communicate in person and in writing. You have a unique opportunity to work with your group together, or as individuals, to discuss (or write descriptively) about your garden.

Photo credit: Zulema Wibmer, 4-H Program Assistant, Leon County 4-H Office

Photo credit: Zulema Wibmer, 4-H Program Assistant, Leon County 4-H Office

UF IFAS Extension offers many resources to help both youth and adults become entrepreneurs in the food industry. Food entrepreneurship has really exploded with the Cottage Food Law. Many County Extension Offices offer workshops and seminars on food entrepreneurship, and there are also some great online resources to help you get started:

If you have a green thumb, consider going “totally green” as a 4-H gardening volunteer or Master Gardener. 4-H needs caring adults like you to share their knowledge and passion for gardening with the next generation. Through the 4-H gardening project, youth not only learn gardening knowledge and skills, they also learn responsibility, teamwork, and other life skills that will help them grow up to be compassionate and competent citizens. To get involved, contact your local UF IFAS Extension Office, or visit http://florida4h.org./volunteers.

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“From Seed to Plate” – Youth Enjoy the Fruits of Their Labor

Students learn how to plant and cultivate a garden.  Photo credit Melanie Taylor, UF IFAS Gulf County Extension.

Planting Time

Did you know that something as simple as a garden can help youth not only learn to love vegetables, but also improve their science scores?  Fifth-graders at Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka Elementary Schools experienced the benefits of gardening this year through the 4-H Seed to Plate Program.  This program teaches youth how to plant, maintain, and harvest a vegetable garden, and is part of the science curriculum taught by 5th grade teachers.

Before the 130 students ever stepped foot in the garden they spent class time discussing the act of planting, the role that bees play in pollination and took a field trip to the North Florida Research and Education Center for 4-H Ag Adventures Day. This program is under the direction of Gulf County Extension Director Roy Lee Carter. The garden program is also supplemented with nutritional and food safety programs taught by Gulf County 4-H/Family & Consumer Science Agent, Melanie Taylor and Family Nutrition Program Assistant, Kay Freeman.

Carter said that the fifth grade is the ideal age level to learn gardening because the students are able to retain what they learn, and apply their new skills at home. The program is part of the science classes taught by the fifth-grade teachers each year.  David and Sally Beyl have been volunteers with the program for the last seven years. Both are Master Gardeners who trained at the University of Florida for 12 weeks and contribute more than 50 hours of horticulture-related volunteer work each year.

“The students love it,” said David Beyl. “You can tell that they enjoy the experience.”

Harvest Time

Harvest Time

A portion of what grows in the gardens was donated by Bonnie Plants in Alabama, the Florida Farm to School program, and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.  The Farm to School Partnership (administered by IFAS) works with local farmers to improve the supply of fresh produce to schools.  Cabbage, lettuce, strawberries, potatoes, carrots, onions, eggplant, watermelon, beans, peppers, squash, sugarcane and various herbs made up this year’s garden with produce grown in-ground and in pots.  “We use pots to show the students that even if you don’t have room for a garden, you can still have a garden,” Beyl said.  In small groups, students learned how to plant seeds, rake, fertilize, cultivate, and harvest. Students even took home cabbages, carrots and potatoes to prepare and share with their families. Those who had an interest in starting their own gardens were given seeds to plant at home.

The highlight of the program is a luncheon prepared by cafeteria staff with produce grown by students.  Everything the students munched on came from the garden they spent eight months cultivating. Both school principals are supportive and find this hands-on opportunity a great addition to the science program. This 4-H and public school collaboration is a very successful, educational and fun-filled learning experience.

If you have a green thumb, consider going “totally green” as a 4-H gardening volunteer or Master Gardener. 4-H needs caring adults like you to share their knowledge and passion for gardening with the next generation. Through the 4-H gardening project, youth not only learn gardening knowledge and skills, they also learn responsibility, teamwork, and other life skills that will help them grow up to be compassionate and competent citizens. To get involved, contact your local UF IFAS Extension Office, or visit http://florida4h.org./volunteers.

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4-H Volunteer Grows Confidence through Gardening Project

4-H School Gardens reach youth who do not have access to 4-H Clubs

4-H School Gardens help youth learn about science, food and nutrition, and life skills such as responsibility.

Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

With 4-H volunteers, Essential Elements of Positive Youth Development, and UF IFAS Extension all in a row!

School gardens have become the perfect avenue to implement experiential learning. They provide the students with a safe environment which fosters cooperative learning, and focuses on nurturing the essential elements youth require in order to become competent caring citizens.  Joe Crozier is a Master Gardener and 4-H volunteer in Walton County. Joe has extensive knowledge in gardening including container gardening and hydroponics. Joe has shared his success and expertise in hydroponics through Master Gardener workshops in the Florida panhandle. However, Joe has a passion for sharing his knowledge with children through the 4-H gardening project and was recruited by the Assistant Principal at Freeport Elementary to begin gardening with the 4th Grade classes.

When asked what inspires Joe to continue to be a 4-H Volunteer, he says “The questions the students ask, and most of all, the smiles on their faces as they plant seeds and become part of the 4-H School Garden Program.”

4-H School Garden at Freeport Elementary

The 4-H School Garden at Freeport Elementary would not have been possible without Joe’s volunteer service

Last year, Joe developed a raised bed garden at Freeport Elementary, which has now expanded to include a bean tee-pee and additional beds. Each student had their own section, per their request, in order to master their green thumb. Prior to this, and the ignition to their new found passion for gardening, the students participated in the “Potato Project,” and grew potatoes in laundry baskets. The students were amazed that this was possible, not to mention the quantity and quality of potatoes that emerged! Once the potatoes were harvested, the children prepared them for cooking and the lunchroom returned the favor by providing each classroom with their own piping hot buttery new potatoes. Children who wouldn’t normally touch vegetables eagerly awaited the moment they could taste the fruit of their labor.

Joe has devoted countless hours to the 4-H School Gardens Program. When asked how 4-H has made a difference in the lives of the students at the school, Joe stated “They involve their parents when they take what they’ve learned in the garden home! Some children have never been taught how to garden or how to grow their own food. Spending time teaching these children makes me so happy and is so contagious that my family notices how proud I am of them.” Thanks to his diligence and dedication, more schools are eager to join the Potato Project and develop their own 4-H School Gardens in Walton County.

If you have a green thumb, consider going “totally green” as a 4-H gardening volunteer! 4-H needs caring adults like you to share their knowledge and passion for gardening with the next generation. Through the 4-H gardening project, youth not only learn gardening knowledge and skills, they also learn responsibility, teamwork, and other life skills that will help them grow up to be compassionate and competent citizens. To get involved, contact your local UF IFAS Extension Office, or visit http://florida4h.org./volunteers.

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Make Your Own Seed-starter Pots From Newspaper!

Photo Credit: Whitney Cherry, UF IFAS Extension

Photo Credit: Whitney Cherry, UF IFAS Extension

4-H literally got its roots in gardening (pardon the pun). The very first 4-H Clubs focused on growing tomatoes and corn, and many youth and volunteers still enjoy gardening projects today. Gardening enriches your life, promotes good health, and saves money. One way to save money is to make your own paper pots to start your seeds. They are fun and inexpensive to make and are a perfect activity for your next club meeting!  For beginners, we recommend growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, beans, basil, chives, parsley, and lettuce. Not into vegies? Try starting sunflowers, zinnias, pansies, or petunias instead.

Items you will need:

  • Newspaper strips (not glossy inserts)
  • Bottle (not glass) or can to wrap paper around
  • Seeds and Soil

What to do:

  1. Cut strips of newspaper about 4” wide.
  2. Wrap strip of newspaper around an empty juice bottle and roll; try to keep the paper wrapped tightly. Half of the strip of paper should overlap the open end of the bottle.
  3. Fold the ends of the paper against the bottom of the bottle.
  4. Push the bottom of the bottle against a flat, hard surface (such as a table) to seal the bottom of your pot.
  5. Pull the bottle out and you have a finished paper pot. Fill with soil an plant your seeds.
  6. When the seedling is ready to transplant, simply drop the entire pot into the ground. The newspaper will biodegrade in your garden, and your plant will never be uprooted. Make sure paper is not sticking out of the ground – it will wick water away from the plant if not underground.

You can print a PDF version of the instructions for this activity.  Other great gardening resources include:

If you have a green thumb, consider going “totally green” as a 4-H gardening volunteer! 4-H needs caring adults like you to share their knowledge and passion for gardening with the next generation. Through the 4-H gardening project, youth not only learn gardening knowledge and skills, they also learn responsibility, teamwork, and other life skills that will help them grow up to be compassionate and competent citizens. To get involved, contact your local UF IFAS Extension Office, or visit http://florida4h.org./volunteers.

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Growing Gardens with 4-H Clubs and Schools

Outgrown clogs can make an excellent container garden.

Outgrown clogs can make an excellent container garden.

Research shows that gardening in school and clubs positively influences youth environmental attitudes, nutritional attitudes, self-esteem, test scores, school attitudes, interpersonal skills, social concerns and behavior. For example, students in third and fifth-grade who learn science through gardening scored higher than students who did not learn science through the use of a garden (National Gardening Association, 2002). The first step is helping your club or class select a garden style. The three most common types of gardens are raised-beds, container, and your typical in-ground garden. This article will provide some tips in helping you decide what type garden is perfect for your 4-H Club or 4-H Classroom.

Container GardensContainer gardens are extremely kid-friendly and are an excellent choice if you have little space, poor soil, or are surrounded by cement and blacktop. Even the smallest outdoor nook can feature a thriving crop of vegetables, herbs, and flowers in containers.

 Benefits of Container Gardening Include:

  • Maximizing your space. You can take advantage of small areas like sunny window ledges and courtyards.
  • Testing the waters. You may want to make sure gardening will work well with your club before committing lots of resources.
  • Portability. If you are faced with challenges — vandalism and theft, or upcoming construction that will displace your plots — you can design container gardens that can be easily moved on a daily or seasonal basis.
  • Soil control. By using containers, you can be confident about the safety of your growing media and enjoy eating your harvest. This is a concern where soil may be contaminated with lead or other industrial pollutants.
  • Blacktop greening. Perhaps you are in an area void of soil and green space. You can place containers on concrete or cement surfaces.
  • Deer, rabbits, and other wildlife are less likely to dine on plants in your container garden.
  • Keep in mind though, that bigger is often better. The bigger your container, the more soil it will hold.  In container gardening, more soil means better water retention, which means you have more latitude with watering and that usually increases your chances of success.
Jefferson County 4-H Agent, John Lilly, shows teachers how to prepare a raised bed garden.

Jefferson County 4-H Agent, John Lilly, shows teachers how to prepare a raised bed garden.

Raised-bed GardensA raised bed garden is built from wood or plastic boards, typically four feet wide and as long as desired (four-feet-by-four feet for square foot gardening, up to 14 feet long rectangular beds). Because much of Florida soil is sandy and does not hold many nutrients, the deeper the garden beds, the better the soil will be. Many schools stack two boards on top of one another to achieve a 10 to 12-inch high garden bed, using 18-inch wooden stakes to keep the boards together. Potting mix, compost or garden sand from the site itself are added to fill the boxes, leaving two inches from the top as clearance. Raised beds help prevent kids from walking on delicate plant roots, clearly marks the boundaries of the bed and reduces some soil-borne pest problems. Clubs in urban areas have constructed raised beds directly on asphalt or concrete surfaces with successful results.

Benefits of Raised-Bed Gardening include:

  • More control over the location of the garden
  • Ability to choose the best soil for your particular plants
  • More efficient draining
  • Can be easier on backs and knees due to less bending and stooping
  • Easier to keep out weeds
  • The soil warms up earlier in a raised bed, so you can plant earlier and extend your growing season
The 4-H gardening project teaches valuable science and life skills.

The 4-H gardening project teaches valuable science and life skills.

In-Ground GardensVegetables, fruit trees, and flowerbeds (such as butterfly gardens) can all grow directly in the ground, as farmers have for centuries. Gardens can be as small as four-feet-by-four-feet, or as large as the garden committee is willing to implement. Before planning a garden, dig several holes at the proposed site to collect soil samples for a pH test and to determine the soil type. Your local County Extension Office can test the soil. Most plants grow best with a pH of seven, but some have different pH requirements. Low-lying or seasonally moist areas will require different plants than high, dry, sunny areas with sandy soil.

Benefits of In-Ground Gardening Include:

  • Use of existing soil. Most soils are perfectly fine for gardening, provided the soil is properly tilled, mulched and watered. Even without organic amendments, most soils can produce a bountiful harvest.
  • Less start-up work (and cost). A flat, well-drained area can be quickly and easily prepared with a large rotor-tiller. You can also save on soil and bed or container materials.
  • An in-ground garden can easily be replaced by another crop or moved to another location.
  • Lower water requirements. In-ground beds won’t dry out as quickly as raised beds and will, therefore, require less water to maintain.
  • Irrigation systems for flat, in-ground gardens are simple to design and easy to install compared to raise beds that require careful design and installation.

If you have a green thumb, consider going “totally green” as a 4-H gardening volunteer! 4-H needs caring adults like you to share their knowledge and passion for gardening with the next generation. Through the 4-H gardening project, youth not only learn gardening knowledge and skills, they also learn responsibility, teamwork, and other life skills that will help them grow up to be compassionate and competent citizens. To get involved, contact your local UF IFAS Extension Office, or visit http://florida4h.org./volunteers.

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