4-H Youth Planting Seeds

How do we teach youth to become growers?

By: Jeramy Smith. 4-H Extension Agent.

For many years, my mother raised me while we lived in rural Georgia with my grandparents. My grandparents were instrumental in helping to raise me and teaching me about many of the things I am passionate about today. I remember receiving a packet of wildflower seeds in third grade from my teacher. I brought the packet home to my grandmother, and that initiated a special journey led by my grandmother that is forever treasured in my heart.

My grandmother and I went to the back of the tool house where there was good sunlight, and we laid out a planting area. My grandad pulled out the rotor tiller and plowed the ground. My grandmother taught me how to use a hoe and metal rake to remove the weeds. Grandad had some old hog wire, so we fenced in the flower bed. We needed to purchase more flower seeds, so grandad drove grandma and me to the Eckerd’s drug store. When we returned, she taught me how to understand the planting instructions on the back of the seed packets to ensure that we would have a successful flower garden.

After a couple days of work, the flower bed was left in the hands of nature. Every day when I arrived home from school, I would run to garden to see the progress. In the mind of a third grader, watching a garden grow was a magical journey, given to me by my grandmother. The journey taught me the beauty of being a grower and bringing life into the world.

Experiential Learning Model

Illustration 1 Experiential Learning Model

My grandmother never made it past the 8th grade, but she understood the power of experiential learning to change a child’s world, which is a pillar for Florida 4-H Youth Development Programs (Illustration 1). UF/IFAS Extension Miami-Dade 4-H uses a learn-by-doing approach (along with caring adults) to help youth gain the knowledge and life skills they need to be productive, responsible citizens. We use fun educational activities such as gardening to target a wide variety of life skills such as critical thinking, self-motivation, planning, hard work, goal-setting, record keeping, and nurturing relationships. It’s our hope that the skills learned will foster positive growth and adaption in youth and into young adulthood. John Dewey, the great educational reformer, said “experiential education takes place when a person involved in an activity looks back and evaluates it, determines what was useful or important to remember, and uses this information to perform another activity.” One of the life lessons that I learned from my grandparents, if you take a child on a journey, you can change their world, whether the activity is archery, fishing, or robotics.

As I reflect on the precious moments with grandma, it inspires me to take my role as an Extension Agent to implement 4-H programs and recruit volunteers to assist in endeavors to teach youth on how to become growers. Last year the Amelia Earhart Park 4-H Club and Doral 4-H Military Club had a wonderful season of harvest. The 4-H members between the ages of 5 to 12 planted a garden with carrots, basil, tomatoes, and more. It was a joy watching them munch on the food they grew. With the help of senior 4-H members and youth volunteers from Commissioner Bovo’s office, a total of 40 teenagers planted a half acre of sugarcane at Amelia Earhart Park’s Bill Graham Farm Village. The Shooting Stars, Kendale Lakes, and Tomorrow’s Navigators 4-H Clubs are all developing butterfly to gardens to protect native and monarch butterflies with the assistance of 4-H member, Danny Bravo and Master Gardner, Lorna Bravo. Recently in January 2017, 4-H conducted an agricultural science day camp with Vanessa Campoverde, Ornamentals Extension Agent, and the University of Florida Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC). The 4-H Members had the opportunity to meet with scientists in the areas of entomology, nematology, pathology, soil and water as well as explore the various tropical fruit trees grown in Miami-Dade.

Yes, Miami-Dade 4-H is on a mission to teach youth to become growers with the latest endeavor to develop a program that grow potatoes, so that youth can use smartphone agriculture apps that test the chlorophyll and nitrate level of potato leaves. We are also looking into teaching youth on how to grow crops such as vegetables and sweet corn.

In conclusion, how do we teach youth to become growers? 1) We have to provide them an opportunity to grow. 2) We have to be willing to walk them through the journey of being a grower. 3) We have to share our wisdom on the importance of growing life. Miami-Dade County, are we ready to share with the youth of our future on how to become extraordinary growers? If so, please reach out to the UF/IFAS Extension Miami-Dade 4-H Youth Development Program on becoming a volunteer by contacting Jeramy Smith, antwan2014@ufl.edu or Kimber Sarver, ksarver@ufl.edu.