This Spring, BMGA volunteers assisted Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service teaching high school students about vegetable gardening through the Growing and Nourishing Healthy Communities Garden Course, which is funded, in part, by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The program helps increase the availability of fresh produce through teaching participants how to grow fruits and vegetables in community and backyard gardens. The program is featured through the Better Living for Texans program by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and is currently offered across the State of Texas.
The culinary garden at Sealy High School was funded by the generosity of BMGA Member Renee Kofman and the Better Living for Texans program. Ms. Kofman coordinated the Master Gardener volunteer instructors for various gardening topics:
•Pete Berkenhoff and Renee Kofman – site selection and building the beds;
•Christy Schweikhardt and Renee Kofman- soil and mulch.
•Charlene Koehler and Renee Kofman – garden maintenance, drip irrigation installation, plant diseases and insects
The program goals are to teach the participants to:
- Identify the characteristics of a suitable garden site;
- Evaluate soils and identify the main components as sand, silt, clay, or loam;
- Make compost and know what materials are best for home composting;
- Create “pots” from newspaper and use them to plant seeds or seedlings to begin a garden;
- Identify good maintenance practices common to vegetable gardens;
- Keep a garden journal to help observe plant health and growth, investigate problems, and record measures taken to resolve problems;
- Identify causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment of common vegetable disorders and diseases;Detect common insect pests and beneficial insects;
- Follow best practices for harvesting, handling, and storing produce.
After teaching the soils and mulch portion of the class, where she encouraged the students to use their hands to study the soil material, Master Gardener Christy Schweikhardt said, “in this age of keeping hand-gel-at-the-ready, kids seem reluctant to get their hands in the dirt. Besides a necessity for growing vegetables, getting a little dirty helps connect the students in a positive way to where their food comes from – the soil.”
Michelle Allen, Austin County Extension Agent-Family and Community Health, was asked last year by Angela Gutowsky, the Culinary Arts teacher at Sealy High School, about implementing a program with Sealy High School’s culinary students. “We didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to work with the students in order to increase their level of knowledge and skills in the area of gardening” said Ms. Allen. She recruited Bluebonnet Master Gardener Association members to provide gardening instructors “because of their expertise and knowledge in the area of gardening. It was a no brainer for me,” said Ms. Allen.
Ms. Allen summed-up the Sealy project saying, “This program was a wonderful way to get the youth of our community engaged with the idea of gardening. It was also enlightening to see them actually take ownership of the project. It was a win/win moment for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Bluebonnet Master Gardener Association. This is education at its best!!”