|4-H Extension Corner|
|Young People Master New Skills|
Since my colleague Amy Burgess is on maternity leave, I’ve stepped in to update you on a program dear to the hearts of Cooperative Farming News readers: the Alabama Junior Master Gardener (JMG) Program. Hi, I’m Luci Davis, the state JMG Coordinator. I’m housed in Auburn, but I travel around Alabama promoting a program which is strongly supported by Bonnie Plants.
Through the years, Bonnie Plants has worked closely with 4-H to help Alabama youth learn gardening skills while increasing their science, math, history and literature knowledge. Alabama Farmers Cooperative should be very proud that Bonnie Plants provides funding to train teachers, volunteers and Extension Agents to lead JMG groups. You have had a real impact on Alabama’s youth!
The JMG Program was started by the Texas Cooperative Extension Service and has been enthusiastically embraced by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The program provides educational material and training used by teachers or volunteers to teach plant growth, soils and water, ecology and environment horticulture, insects and diseases, landscape horticulture, fruits and nuts, vegetables and herbs, and life skills and career exploration. The mission of JMG is "to grow good kids by igniting a passion for learning, success and service through a unique gardening education."
You have heard the saying about "teaching a person to fish…." Well, the JMG program takes that philosophy further. Learning the lifetime skill of gardening has implications that go beyond a classroom project on planting a sunflower or learning how peaches grow. Youth do develop skills that can put food on the table, but they also build leadership skills, and learn social and personal responsibility.
First, let’s think about the practical aspects of learning to grow your own food. Consider what might be on a plate of fresh, Alabama-grown vegetables: butter beans, black-eyed peas, creamed corn, vine-ripened tomatoes, squash and okra. If you watch the salt and fat – and include a skillet of cornbread! – you would be hard-pressed to find a meal as nutritious, delicious and inexpensive to produce.
4-H was built on the tradition of providing the people with that sort of meal. 4-H Corn Clubs and Tomato Clubs were direct precursors of the JMG program, and they had a direct and crucial impact on Alabama families. It was through 4-H youth that Cooperative Extension taught small farmers the values of scientific farming. Superstition and folklore were overcome by techniques like crop rotation and the safe uses of pesticides and herbicides.
Until fairly recently, it seemed most Alabama families had a small garden patch. Long summers, ample rainfall and rich soil literally put food on our tables. In days-gone-by, it made good economic and culinary sense to have at least a few tomato plants in the backyard. It still makes good sense, and although we have very few reasons to doubt the reliability of American food production, you always know homegrown is just as safe as you make it.
We would all agree there is something fundamentally good about "getting your hands dirty" by working in the garden. Gardening is a means for our increasingly-urban kids to regain contact with the earth, and the rituals and cycles of agriculture. Issues like climate change, drought and global food production become much more meaningful when you have tended your own watermelon vine or picked your own eggplant.
We believe that "If it isn’t fun, it isn’t 4-H," so JMG provides fun and creative activities. Like everything else in 4-H, the purpose of the JMG program is to help develop Belonging, Independence, Generosity and Mastery (our "BIG M").
Belonging is built on team projects sharing both the labor and the rewards. Young gardeners also get a sense of belonging to the larger community, often working in inter-generational activities where older youth or adults serve as mentors or guides.
Independence comes with the satisfaction of individual learning and success along with personal pride and responsibility.
Generosity is seen in good deeds like sharing your flowers and fruits or by teaching younger kids skills you have learned. The JMG program incorporates service learning and volunteerism, allowing young people to make a positive contribution to Alabama communities.
The Mastery of science, horticulture and agronomy can have tremendous implications for developing problem-solving, leadership, communications and many other crucial life skills.
The JMG Program builds youth leaders by using environmental science as a vehicle to develop academic skills, character education and service learning. It enhances reading, writing, science and math skills through "hands-on" and applied learning. It provides certification and recognition for youth when they attain their personal goals. In a state which is a national leader in childhood obesity and diabetes, JMG can also play an important role in improving youth health and nutrition through gardening and nutrition education.
The program works through schools, volunteers, cooperative extension networks and other youth organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs. The training is closely aligned to Alabama academic standards, so a growing number of teachers have been trained in the JMG curriculum and are bringing it to their classrooms.
Are you interested in starting a JMG group? The JMG leader does not have to be a Master Gardener. If a JMG leader needs garden resources and information, they can contact me or their local county Extension service for gardening support. You will need to identify a group of youth to participate. The program is flexible and can be offered to many different groups and in many different settings. A JMG group must have a minimum of five youth. An important step is to register your JMG group. I will be glad to walk you through this simple process.
Who can participate in JMG? JMG is a project of the 4-H program. However, the strength of the JMG program is its flexibility. We do not restrict who can participate. Most groups are associated with a school or home school group. JMG is also used as a part of many traditional youth clubs like 4-H, Boy/Girl Scouts, YMCA and faith-based groups. In addition, public and botanical gardens, children’s museums and libraries typically have great educational environments and are using JMG in their programming. JMG is a great match to these groups and an excellent educational outreach program for youth.