When a child plants a seed, they both grow

JULY 10, 2003

PAT BLANCHARD

Victoria County Master Gardener

"To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch the renewal of life---this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do (with a child)."

This quotation by Charles Warner from "My Summer in a Garden" (1870) and my addition in parentheses, sums up the success of the Junior Master Gardener Program at the Boys and Girls Club of Victoria. A dozen or more at-risk 8- to 10-year-old children have been participating twice weekly in the first offered Junior Master Gardener Program in Victoria, mentored by more than 20 Victoria County Master Gardeners.

Junior Master Gardeners (JMG) is an international horticulture and environmental science program offered to youth of all ages. This 5-year-old program is the brain child of Texas A&M University Cooperative Extension network and, according to the Website, http://www.jmgkids.us/index.k2, is offered in more than 40 states, with 500 chapters in Texas alone. More than 400 activity options are offered in eight different areas including plant growth and development; soils and water; ecology and environmental horticulture; insects and diseases; landscape horticulture; fruits and nuts; vegetables and herbs; and life skills and career exploration. The JMG program topics mirror the Master Gardener Certification course topics offered annually by the Victoria County Extension, for the past six years.

As stated in the Master Gardener Handbook, one role of the master gardener, youth education, melds perfectly with a core area of the Boys and Girls Club: outdoors and environmental education. Ramon DeLeon, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Victoria, has said, "This is a perfect match: to expose our kids to successful individuals who have a passion for gardening and the outdoors. All the kids need is an opportunity for some one to set an expectation for them to meet."

Our JMG kids have chosen their own name, calling themselves "BuGsters"--with the B and G standing for themselves, Boys and Girls. They are now a registered group of the Master Gardener Program. The boys and girls have made leaf rubbing rainbows, pinwheel plants, fantastical plants, plant people, gallon green houses, mud pies, earth apples and a life-size scarecrow that will be set up in the Victoria Education Gardens.

Unanimously, their favorite activity has been composting bin bugs--"Ugh!" Here they sifted through homemade compost and found pill bugs, centipedes, springtails and worms. Unbelievably, the kids themselves have been the best recruiters to the JMG programs. Late joiners have even asked for homework to make up the missed activities!

The JMG program continues through the second week of August and will culminate with a graduation field trip to the Victoria Educational Gardens next to the Victoria County Airport Officers' Club where they can plant, nurture and harvest vegetables.

From whom did you learn gardening: a parent, grandparent or a dedicated teacher or youth leader? If you are interested in offering a Junior Master Gardening program and cultivating the love of gardening in the eyes of a child, contact me at 575-6993.