As part of my position, one of the most fulfilling and educational opportunities I have is working with my county UF/IFAS Master Gardeners. This group of experienced, knowledgeable, and caring adults do so much good within my county, along with the other Master Gardeners throughout the state, country, and world.
One of our most successful programs in the UF/IFAS Clay County Master Gardener program is our 22 year partnership with Bannerman Learning Center, an alternative placement school in Green Cove Springs, FL and I have witnessed the amazing impact this program has over the past year I have been with UF/IFAS Extension. Throughout this time, the volunteer group has worked with Annie Sheldon, the UF/IFAS Clay County Family Consumer Science Agent and myself, the administration and faculty of the school, and (most importantly) the students to reinvigorate the program, utilizing funding to rebuild the in-ground vegetable garden into a drip-irrigated, raised bed system built from recycled plastic barrels, improve upon landscape beds and the schools pond, and to manage and maintain the student built greenhouse.
Science, math, and carpentry classes utilize the garden in weekly lessons with the Master Gardener volunteers and the culinary program worked with our FCS and Family Nutrition Program to provide nutrition education parallel to the work in the garden. Produce was then utilized in culinary classes or sent home with students to utilize in their households.
Last school year, volunteers provided over 2000 hours of direct education at the school, over 300 pounds of vegetables have been harvested, and students earned over $300 in premiums from plants grown at theschool garden at the Clay County Fair, including 57 blue ribbons and two best in shows. Even more important, volunteers and students both remarked on surveys how much they enjoyed the time they spent within the garden and the positive interactions they have with each other. In the 2018-2019 school year, there are plans to expand this impact even further and continue to improve the lives of the students through education and interactions.
For more information on the UF/IFAS Master Gardener program visit http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/mastergardener/ and for helpful fact sheets that can help in the management and planning of a school garden, visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_school_gardens for helpful fact sheets or contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.