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Gardens are growing on Redstone Arsenal. Redstone Arsenal School Age Center and Youth Center were ordered to start a garden with the youth who attended the youth center. The director and staff at the youth center were not sure where to begin. They contacted Alabama 4-H and Junior Master Gardeners for assistance. Wanda Pharris, 4-H Regional Extension Agent for Madison and Jackson Counties, has worked with the youth center on the Arsenal for years. She felt this was another way she could get involved with military 4-H.
Rachel Simpson, Alabama’s Operation Military Kids coordinator and 4-H Military Liaison, said, "4-H’s involvement with military programs has been around for many years.
"Military families move frequently and experience the difficulties during lengthy and frequent deployments; 4-H provides predictable programming and a safe and nurturing environment for military kids."
Here in Alabama, National 4-H Headquarters depends on Auburn University and Alabama Cooperative Extension System to build strong partnerships with Army, Air Force, Navy, National Guard and Reserve entities in order to provide technical assistance and training for military staff and to establish 4-H clubs for military youth living on and off installation. Here in Alabama, we have 4-H programs on all five of our military installations: Redstone Arsenal, Anniston Army Depot, Gunter and Maxwell Air Force Bases, and Fort Rucker. Rachel also mentioned that many of the 4-H regional Extension agents are working in their communities to locate the military youth who have family members in the National Guard and Reserves.
The vision for the garden at the Redstone Arsenal School Age Center and Youth Center began in the spring of 2011. Pharris suggested a pizza garden would relate to the youth who participate at the center.
"How many children eat pizza? The youth at the center would enjoy learning about the vegetables and herbs in pizza, and being able to watch them grow," Pharris said.
She also approached the staff at the youth center about her coming and teaching lessons from the Junior Master Gardener (JMG) curriculum: Health and Nutrition from the Garden. This curriculum has been chosen by the Alabama 4-H staff to work towards one of ACES’s strategic program initiatives.
The youth on the Arsenal all have been involved in their pizza garden. They all became part of a registered JMG group and enjoyed programs and their gardens. Some of the youth expressed an interest in the garden because they said they worked in the garden at home with their parents or grandparents.
Some of the youth said "they had never worked in the garden before," but were excited to work in the garden at Redstone Arsenal because it was something new. Here are some of the comments heard from the youth during the summer: "It was a lot of work…" "all the things we have to do…" "like watering and pulling the weeds is hard."
When the vegetables came in, the youth said, "Wow…" "I can’t wait until the tomatoes get bigger."
"It was great to see the progression of the attitudes of the children. By the end of the summer, all of the youth were excited about harvesting the vegetables," Pharris said.
The staff at the Redstone Arsenal School Age Center and Youth Center plan to continue on with their garden this summer. The month of April is "The Month of the Military Child." As we begin to garden this spring, remember how many youth are affected by family members in the service.
Luci Davis is the State Junior Master Gardener Coordinator. For more information on the program, phone (334) 703-7509.