Because of a grant, a group of 4-H youths acquired a green thumb this gardening season, growing nine large garden plots full of vegetables, fruits and herbs.
"When we started, our plan was to have just two plots (for the youths)," said Jennifer Pollard, county youth and outreach coordinator for ISU Extension."Since it was a new program we were going to start small and grow."
The youths, ranging in age from 9 to 13, had nine, 10 by 20 foot plots.
The purpose of the Youth Voice: Youth Choice Community Partner grant program is to help youths eat healthier and learn how to plant gardens at an early age. The grant is funded by Clarke County 4-H, master gardeners and the Walmart Foundation.
The grant was one of 15 awarded to Iowa communities. The $1,000 grant funding went toward the purchase of plants, seeds and other items needed for a garden. The money was also used to buy healthy snacks to encourage good nutrition habits.
The program was opened to 4-H'ers across the county. This year's participants were Marshal Curnes, Carter Smith, Riley Smith, Devon Devore, Molly Stuart, Madison Stuart, Lucas Henry, Craig Haltom, Kyle Haltom and Nathan Porter. "I wanted to learn how to garden really well," said Craig Haltom of his decision to join. "And try something new," added Nathan Porter.
The youths learned from local master gardeners Sue Wilder and Marilyn Dorland. Pollard also assisted with the program. They grew peppers, potatoes, cabbage, rhubarb, pumpkins, onions, green beans, watermelon, popcorn, herbs and more. They learned the various steps of gardening and had to meet regularly to keep the plants watered during the hot, dry weather.
The youths entered their produce at the Clarke County Fair. During the fair, some of the youths met Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, who stopped by the fairgrounds.
The youths took their produce to Osceola farmers market to tell the community about their project. They also donated some of their produce to the Osceola Senior Center. The grant requires the youths talk to other youth about the program, gardening and nutrition.
"We still need to talk to some more people and educate them about what we've been doing and maybe get them enthusiastic about it," said Haltom.
The leaders enjoyed the youths' enthusiasm for the program. "It was just fun to see their faces," said Wilder.
"The cutest comment I got from one of the kids was, 'I just think it's amazing. You put this seed, that looks dead, in the ground, you water it and up comes this plant and it grows and makes something that I can eat,'" said Dorland.
Pollard said it was fun to see the enthusiasm expand to the youths' families. "We had some families who got enthused about gardening because their child was participating in this, and they decided to get a garden themselves," she said.
Wilder, who applied for the grant, said she hopes to keep the program going next year if she's able to find funding.