Saturday, March 17, 2012

4-H: A Four-Leaf Clover of Another Kind on St. Patrick’s Day

This morning, I planted peas at my house and then headed over to the Four Seasons City Farm garden at Carpenter and Mound to help rake and plant more peas. However, I spent part of yesterday afternoon meeting with Beth Boomershine at the Franklin County Extension office on South Hamilton Road and talking about starting a 4-H club at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. As a small town girl, I grew up with 4-H. My mother was a cooking club advisor and I had four sewing projects growing up. My friends and cousins had horse projects, my sister raised rabbits, my cousins raised chickens and everyone else raised pigs or cows which they sold at the county fair to help finance their college educations.

4-H has many gardening projects. To start, for the youngest kids, there is Go Plants! This has five lesson plans (which I’ll probably cover over two weeks instead of one): 1) Seed Secrets; 2) Getting to the Root; 3) Sturdy Stems; 4) Leaves to Live By and 5) Fantastic Flowers. There are scientific lessons, opportunities for the kids to observe and then reflect with written exercises, group activities, and artistic activities (i.e., writing songs, poems, raps, stories, essays, creating a seed mosaic, etc.). Of course, nutrition is covered, too. Also, there are flash cards, puzzles, seed journals (where kids can plant seeds and then draw a picture of the plant as it grows while they make notes every day).

One of the beginner level individual projects (which, if not enough kids sign up this year, we may do as a group project) is Vegetable Gardening for Backyards or Patios. The first step is to pick a group of vegetables to plant by tasting and research. The second step is to plan the and prepare a vegetable garden by location/site and by calendar/timing. The third step involves experiments with light. The fourth step involves improving the soil. The fifth step involves starting seeds and transplanting seedlings and the last step involves creating your own compost. There are also citizenship activities, such as helping someone else with their gardening project, organizing a tour of home vegetable gardens, inviting a gardening speaker, etc.

The next beginning project is How Does Your Garden Grow? This is essentially a two-year project. The first year, you plan your garden project (with containers or a 25 sf plot) and grow three different vegetables and flowers. The second year involves refining or planning a different garden in containers or a 50 sf plot. You should grow at least five different vegetables and flowers (to learn pinching and deadheading). This project explores safety (such as lead in the soil, fertilizer mixing, tools, poisonous plants, clothing, sun, heat, allergies, insects, etc.), weeds, and citizenship activities.

The first intermediate project is Growing with the Seasons. This project focuses more on intensive and space-saving gardening techniques for a 225 sf garden, organic gardening issues, pest management, harvesting and storing vegetables. There are two organized activities and two citizenship/leadership projects. There is also a section on displaying your vegetables for the county fair (or Circleville pumpkin show if you grow something that large;)

The next intermediate level project is Canning and Freezing. This project requires understanding the pH of various food and how that affects the kind of canning, what kind of equipment is required, understanding the season for various fruits and vegetables, the different ways to freeze vegetables, herbs and vegetables and how to can acidic foods with a hot water bath. There are also citizenship/leadership activities and projects, such as making and canning pickles and apple sauce.

Finally, there is Beekeeping. We hope to get a bee hive soon and so Beth threw in this project in case the neighborhood kids wanted to get involved. This project can be as basic or advanced as age and experience dictate. It actually discusses setting SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented and Time-bounded. The project involves housing and parasites, etc.

4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, with 6 million kids and teens enrolled in urban, suburban and rural communities. It is run here by the United States Department of Agriculture, through Ohio State University’s Extension Program and Franklin County. 4-H fosters an innovative, “learn by doing” approach with proven results. A study by Tufts University showed that youth engaged with 4-H are: (1) Nearly two times more likely to get better grades in school; (2) Nearly two times more likely to plan to go to college; (3) 41 percent less likely to engage in risky behaviors; and (4) 25 percent more likely to positively contribute to their families and communities.

The 4-H Pledge:

I pledge my Head to clearer thinking,

My Heart to greater loyalty,

My Hands to larger service, and

My Health to better living,

for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

4-H has found that youths learn best by doing and then explaining it others. (It’s not enough to just listen or to watch; you have to do and then explain). Therefore, once the youth is at least 8 years old, he or she must adopt a 4-H project in order to participate. 4-H has almost 200 different projects available for kids and teens to choose from. In addition to the gardening projects described above, there are non-gardening projects, too, involving dogs, cats, sewing, cooking, photography, scrapbooking, nutrition, first aid, citizenship, leadership, public speaking, money management, bicycling, electricity, robotics, small engines and lawn care, woodworking, etc.

There are also opportunities for competition, prizes, camps, college and camp scholarships, public speaking and participating in the county and state fairs. 4-H is what you make of it.

Beth could not have been more supportive of encouraging 4-H at the SACG. However, she was also clear that she cannot grow grass. So, if you want to get some materials to start a youth program at your garden, contact Beth, but don’t ask her to plant anything. :)

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