A garden club for kids is an idea that Cindy Nelsen can embrace.
She’s a horticulturist with The Garden Gate greenhouse and grows produce for farmers’ markets, restaurants and grocery stores. She’s a master gardener, an organizer in the Healthy Yankton Community Gardens and takes part in the Yankton Seed Library.
Her daughter Kathryn attends the Garden Club option at the Boys & Girls Club and son Curtis attends the Club Teen Center at Boys & Girls Club and sometimes is a helper when it’s his mom’s turn to teach.
The Yankton Boys & Girls Club is open to ideas for new programs. A garden club requires some equipment and supplies to create a garden. Nelsen and then-4-H Extension leader Stephanie Siebrandt discussed the idea. Siebrandt was granted funds from 4-H Leaders Association for garden supplies. Nelsen was granted funds from Yankton Area Foundation for shovels, hoes and enough other basics for a class to plant, tend and harvest a garden.
Jill Paulson of the Yankton Traditional Unit Director at Boys & Girls Club saw the potential interest of second- to fourth-grade youth in raising plants in a garden.
"This season, we brought in Cindy Nelsen, Stephanie Siebrandt and her intern Abby Steffen, and Katie Freng of Yankton County 4-H Extension, South Dakota Extension nutritionist Angela Knodel, and a few members from Missouri Valley Master Gardeners to implement 4-H curriculum called ‘Learn, Grow, Eat and Go,’ for the youth," Paulson said.
She added that they want kids to understand what they can grow, and sample the vegetables they harvest. They want to show how plants grow and health benefits of eating fresh vegetables and fruits.
"Our Boys & Girls Club program has three priority outcomes: academic success, character and leadership, and healthy lifestyles," Paulson said. "To me, this garden club fits all three. Not only are they learning about vegetables and fruits, but (also) how to plant and care for them. There’s nutritional eating and physical activity in a garden they plant and harvest."
Down in the Weeds
Kids started the Garden Club in June. Youth who chose to participate tended and weeded the garden, harvested and tasted early produce. During the school year, youth spend less time at Boys & Girls Club than in the summer, and Garden Club meets less often.
These days, the club is an option for 20 kids once a week for an hour. Kids still harvest vegetables and fruit, and taste the produce. They still have some summer squash, zucchini, beans, peppers, cherry tomatoes, radishes, potatoes and marigolds until a hard frost.
"Kids will help clean the garden site in fall," Nelsen said. "We’re looking at raised beds next year because we had a gopher problem late in the season. Gophers liked the peas, broccoli and cucumbers the best."
When some vegetables didn’t germinate or the gophers got them, Nelsen brought in missing vegetables so kids could taste them. She hopes that kids in the teen unit at the Boys & Girls Club or the building trades class at the high school would be willing to help them build some beds with chicken wire on the bottom to prevent gophers from burrowing and eating produce.
"We planted radishes and spinach when the gophers took out the cucumbers. So, in late August, we had radishes for the first time. It’s neat because some kids don’t know you can plant later in the season," Nelsen said.
Just before hard frost, Nelsen will bring a demonstration pot of growing potato plants indoors. They are planted in a pot of soil with holes for the roots to grow out. That pot is placed inside a larger pot of soil.
"Potatoes will continue to grow in the pots indoors on a window sill until about Christmas," she said.
At that time, she will lift the smaller pot with holes out of the larger pot, and the attached potatoes will be easy to see.
"Then we’ll have a dig," she said. "When you fork potatoes from the ground in the garden, you don’t see how they grow underground."
She chose potatoes because most kids like to eat some form of potato and they are easy to grow under conditions at the club.
"We want kids to understand what they can grow and eat," Nelsen said.
From now until November or hard frost, the Boys & Girls Club Garden Club meets on Tuesday and Nelsen, Katie Freng, and master gardeners will help kids learn more about edible plants they can grow in the garden and how they taste. Extras that they produce after sampling their pick, they cut up and serve at that evenings supper at the club. They are also making meals for the club from produce they have grown in their garden. They will continue to learn about how plants grow and the benefits of eating fresh vegetables and fruits.