This year we are adding youth and teens to our gardening programs in a couple of ways, trying to engage youth in the growing and preservation of their food. These are skills that not only can they take with them into adulthood, but that they can use at this point in their lives to help with family food budgets, especially if their parents work and have only minimal time for gardening.

One of our more experienced gardeners was recently invited to work with students at a local elementary school. They took plants, soil, pots, and a mister bottle when they visited second-grade students at Hugh Dingess. The school provided enthusiastic students interested in learning how to grow plants.

They started out by reading a story called “The Dandelion Seed”, and then worked with the students to properly repot their plants and gently mist them. Each student received a plant that they will care for and then take home to transplant. They learned not to compact the soil around the roots of the tomato plants since that is how they breathe. They learned how to make sure their plants are getting enough water to drink. They learned about staking the tomato plants to help support them for better tomato growth. This was followed by a question and answer session where the students were able to ask further gardening questions.

At the Big Ugly Community Center, we’ve included youth and teens in our meetings, letting them learn along with the adults. Like the adults, they are able to participate in planned activities, and like the adults, they receive seeds, tools, and plants. A couple of our youth are very young: a 4-year-old who had been helping his uncle garden the last couple of years, and told his uncle he thought it was time he had his own garden to tend and a two-year-old (yes, two) who informed Grandpa that he needed his own garden to grow his own choice of vegetables. Both youngsters have shown their commitment by readying their garden beds for their seeds and plants with minimal adult help. I have to admit some adults haven’t shown that level of commitment or enthusiasm!

This past week we did our food preservation workshops: we had one workshop on canning and another on freezing. Both times we made peach salsa, and both times we had youth/teens participating in the preparation of the salsa. There was some initial concern that the peach salsa might not go over well, however, the youth/teens ate half their salsa before they finished filling their freezer bags, and the adults weren’t far behind in finishing off the excess salsa for canning. The youth/teens plan to revisit salsa making as peppers and tomatoes start to come in.

So, as we enter a new growing season, and as our plants start to grow and provide harvests, I look forward not only to a bountiful harvest of food but a bountiful harvest of enthusiastic young gardeners as well.