Extension News

Roots and Shoots: Sowing Life Skills and Vegetables


Ames, Iowa--- Six 4-H youth are looking forward to getting their hands dirty once again this spring planting their community garden.  The Roots and Shoots 4-H club of Story County is entering its second year and has big plans for their garden outside the Iowa State University Extension Building.

“We do our best to allow the kids to make the decisions on what to plant.  We let the kids get their hands dirty and do the planting and weeding themselves,” said Lisa Harmison, Roots and Shoots 4-H club leader and Master Gardener. “We try to give them a sense of ownership and also to reap the rewards themselves.”

Each 4-H youth gets an area in the garden that is 4 feet by 4 feet explained Harmison. Each child gets to plan what is planted in the area including annual flowers, herbs and vegetables. Additional garden plots are considered to be community gardens where everyone decides what to plant.  

“The community garden plots often have themes to them,” said Harmison. “The club plans on planting a Three Sisters garden, a pizza garden, and a vegetable soup garden this year.”

More Than Just Planting

“As master gardeners and participants in the ‘Growing in the Garden’ training program, we use those curriculums as a guide for activities,” said Harmison. “We also ask the kids what things they want to learn about and try to work those topics into our programs.”

The club also spends time on what they find in the garden too - insects, worms, rabbit droppings, and deer footprints were some of the discoveries last year.  It is all at their level, presented as an exploration of the whole outdoors instead of a task to do in the garden.

“Last summer the kids made and tasted fresh salsa right out of the garden.  A couple months ago we had a close look at soil and worms, including making worm composting containers for the kids to take home- complete with worms,” said Harmison.

National initiative

The 4-H club’s garden relates to the national campaign headed by First Lady Michelle Obama and the White House Kitchen Garden.  The First Lady started the garden on the White House’s South Lawn last year and reaped amazing results.

Gardening address a multitude of other national initiatives including: getting kids connected with nature and their food supply; choosing healthy foods to fight childhood obesity; increasing exercise; pursuing careers in science; learning-by-doing; developing life skills such as communication, citizenship/stewardship and leadership; and improving environmental literacy.  

The First Lady got her daughters involved along with students from a local elementary.  The garden is the first in approximately 100 years at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt installed a victory garden during World War II. The harvest will be used in both the White House kitchen and a nearby soup kitchen.

Food Connection

“Even picky eaters can’t resist the taste of fresh salsa that they made from juicy tomatoes and crisp onions they planted and nurtured throughout the summer,” said Linda Naeve, ISU Extension program specialist. “Research shows that children are more likely to eat vegetables if they have grown them.”

Much like members of the Roots and Shoots 4-H Club, the White House Garden sparked an interest in the Obama children. They became more likely to try and eat the vegetables when they were involved in planting and picking them reported the First Lady.

Iowa State University Extension recently surveyed teachers, ISU Extension staff and 4-H leaders, Master Gardeners, day care providers, volunteers, community gardening coordinators and others who have participated in Growing in the Garden training and networking sessions. The number showed highly positive responses for those involved.

4,100 Iowa youth have participated or are participating in garden-based learning in school classrooms or after-school programs in the 2009-2010 school year. It is estimated that approximately 1,500 of the youth are actually gardening and working with plants outside.

“The survey respondents said that more than 80 percent of the youth made a new connection with nature and had a new understanding of the food they eat,” said Janet Toering, ISU Extension 4-H Youth Specialist,  “99 percent of the kids had fun gardening and learning skills that last a lifetime.”

A Growing and Giving Garden

Although only in their second year, the Roots and Shoots 4-H club has expanded their gardening to include containers along the walkways to the ISU Extension 4H Youth Building. The containers will feature different styles of container gardens with annual flowers, herbs and vegetables.

The 4-H’ers are also giving back to the community with their crop. They will be giving the extra produce from the community plots to Plant a Row for the Hungry to be distributed to food pantries and a soup kitchen in Ames.

Look for updates from the Roots and Shoots garden plot throughout the summer!

About Iowa 4-H Clubs

Iowa youth “learn by doing” in 4-H clubs throughout the state. 4-H clubs can be general interest or focus on specific topics such as horticulture, photography, clothing, shooting sports, robotics, communications, woodworking, food and nutrition or just about any topic that interests kids and teens. Contact your Iowa State University Extension county office, www.extension.iastate.edu/content/county-offices/, to find out about clubs in your county.

About the Iowa 4-H Youth Development Program
4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, serving more than 6 million young people across America with programs in leadership, citizenship, communication and life skills. One in five Iowa school-age youth participates in 4-H. In Iowa, 4-H Youth Development is headquartered at the Iowa State University campus in Ames. 4-H is supported by federal, state and county funding, private grants and donations and fees. For more information about joining 4-H, contact your Iowa State University Extension county office at www.extension.iastate.edu/content/county-offices/ or visit www.extension.iastate.edu/4H.


Contacts :

Janet Toering, 4-H ISU Extension Connecting Learning and Living Program Director,  515-294-1018,  janeta@iastate.edu

Lisa Harmison, Roots and Shoots 4-H Club Leader, lisa@amesgardener.com

Shelly Greving, 4-H Youth Development, (515) 294-1607, shellyg@iastate.edu


Kassi Williams, Extension Communications and External Relations, 515-294-9915, kassi8@iastate.edu

Roots & Shoots 4-H Club high resolution photo