AMES, Iowa – This year’s Search for Excellence Master Gardener Award winners know the value of teaching gardening to youth.
Mary Groen and Sally Hartley, Master Gardener volunteers in Woodbury County and recipients of the 2021 Search for Excellence award, launched a new program in 2019 that brought gardening lessons and education to youth ages 5 to 8.
Working with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Groen and Hartley collaborated with the LaunchPAD Children’s Museum in Sioux City, Iowa, to host in-person garden camps in the summer of 2019, followed by pandemic-mandated virtual gardening sessions in 2020.
Groen and Hartley, who both worked in early childhood education before retirement, taught children basic concepts like plant identification, the plant growth process, caring for gardens, seed selection and more.
The award recognizes Master Gardeners who demonstrate outstanding contributions to their communities, providing significant learning and impact in the local area. All applications must show that significant learning took place, with the focus on educating the general public rather than individual Master Gardeners.
Each child attends the meeting with an adult – usually a parent or grandparent – and both participate in the learning process.
“Every child has an adult with them every time and we see the excitement in their eyes – both the children and the adult,” said Hartley. “We both believe very strongly in outdoor activities and gardening is a great activity for young children to learn.”
Groen said it’s been encouraging to see how enthusiastic the children become about gardening – whether it’s learning about birds, butterflies, bugs or growing plants.
“One of the things we both enjoyed was how enthusiastic these kids are about doing this,” Groen said. “We’re trying to introduce them to all aspects of the outdoors and they seem to enjoy being a part of this.”
This year, the program is working with nine youth and sessions will be offered online until organizers are comfortable returning to in-person learning. The class number is kept relatively small so instructors can spend more time with each participant.
Each participant is encouraged to write notes in their journals, which are shared at each meeting. Books are also shared during meeting time, and some of the information from books is used as a reference for that day’s discussion.
In addition to their volunteerism, Groen and Hartley, along with LaunchPAD Children’s Museum, collaborated to provide the activities at no cost for the children, including learning materials, books, journals and many other garden items.
“I think it’s fantastic to see that our volunteers are able to help us coordinate this type of programming,” said Molly Hewitt, regional director for ISU Extension and Outreach in Woodbury County. “They are providing valuable education, along with our county staff, to the public.”
For more information about this project, contact Kevin Pottebaum, public relations and communications coordinator with ISU Extension and Outreach in Woodbury County, at 712-276-2157 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shareable photo: Woodbury County Master Gardener project.