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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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