Washington State University Master Gardeners Working with Youth
Washington State University Extension’s Food Safety and Nutrition Education program and 4-H Youth Development programs of Clark County are involved in two community youth gardening projects: The Hazel Dell School and Community Garden Project and the 4-H Restorative Community Service Garden Project. These programs both support positive youth development through hands-on activities that teach life skills such as teamwork, decision making, and wise use of resources and both projects include health and nutrition education and each serves a diverse group of Clark County youth and are supported by caring adult community.
The Hazel Dell School and Community Garden Project
The idea to build a school garden program at one of Vancouver’s low-income schools sprouted as a way to enhance school curriculum, improve nutrition, teach environmental stewardship, and offer a nearby Boys and Girls club enrichment opportunities during the summer. This project is supported by Washington State University Extension's Food $ense and 4-H Youth Development programs in partnership with the Clark County Solid Waste Program, Hazel Dell Elementary, the Vancouver School District, the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest Washington, and the Master Gardener Foundation of Clark County. Funding comes from WSU Extension, Clark County Solid Waste program, the Vancouver School District Foundation, while the Master Gardener Foundation, community volunteers and local businesses have committed to help the program by providing seeds, tools and necessary gardening supplies.
Located on the Southwest corner of Hazel Dell Elementary school grounds, the site originally housed a school district maintenance shop and storage area for playground equipment. In the fall 2004, the Vancouver School District performed extensive soil tests which determined the site was not contaminated. The Clark County Solid Waste Program hired a landscape company to level the site, install curbing and gravel to make the garden wheelchair accessible, and build ‘raised-bed’ gardening plots. By the end of March, the group installed a 20’ x 48’ foot greenhouse for year-round growing, a tool shed, compost bins, and more.
During the school year, WSU Extension’s Food $ense and 4-H Youth Development programs organize Garden Enhanced Nutrition classes. These classes occur both in class and after-school and utilize the garden to engage students physically while they learn about nutrition, the environment, science and practice life skills such as planning, goal-setting, team building, cooperation, and problem-solving. The school Coordinator periodically coordinates recess time activities, special community events, and work parties. The nearby Boys and Girls Club, WSU Master Gardener Volunteers, parents, and community volunteers tend the garden during summer months. WSU Master Gardeners are greatly encouraged to participate.
The 4-H Restorative Community Service Garden program
Beginning in the year 2000, Washington State University Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Program, the Battle Ground School District, and the Clark County Juvenile Court’s Restorative Community Service Program formed a partnership to provide eligible youthful offenders with a unique way to meet court requirements for accountability; to grow fresh vegetables to help reduce hunger in their community.
From mid-March through October, community members, WSU Master Gardeners, Mentors from the Juvenile court, an Americorp volunteer from the Battle Ground School District and the 4-H and Food $ense Program Coordinator meet weekly to work side by side with juvenile offenders to grow fresh produce for a nearby food bank that supplies. In 2004, over the course of 32 weeks, 34 adult volunteers and 90 youth grew, tended, and donated 4,400 pounds of fresh produce to this food bank.
|At a volunteer appreciation picnic a youth participant said “We often get treated like criminals. People assume we are bad kids. But you always made us feel welcome, and were kind t us. Than you for treating us with such respect, and like we're your equals.”
October 16, 2004.
This project is based on the restorative philosophy that when youthful offenders are integrated into their community, rather than left on the outside, they are less likely to re-offend. Working with other community members on a task that benefits the community, youth offenders are able to make a meaningful contribution to the community they harmed, while making positive connections with adult members of the community.
The garden setting is a place to be physically active in a safe and fun environment and each week the group learns something new about natural systems, where food comes from, and how it is grown and harvested. Through working together to accomplish tasks in the garden the group practices and applies life skills including teamwork, communication, self-motivation, and problem solving. Inspired by the sense of community they gained from working with others and feeling the significance of helping to grow food for the food bank, six youths continued to volunteer after completing their mandatory service and several participants brought their friends to work in the garden.