- Author: Laura Lukes
One of the ways the UC Master Gardeners of Butte County serve our community is through their School Gardens Program. Currently this program serves four schools, reaching 300 children a month in a total of twelve first-grade classrooms. (Before the Camp Fire, the program served eighteen classrooms).
The Master Gardeners' School Garden Program has since grown into a collaboration between the UC Master Gardeners, local elementary schools, and CalFresh, part of California's Nutrition Education Program. Plant starts are provided by local community-supported agriculture farm GRUB (Growing Resources Uniting Bellies), and previously also were supplied by the Plant Barn nursery. All of the schools involved are defined as “underserved” and many, if not most, of their students qualify for reduced or free lunches. It is important to note that the Master Gardeners' School Garden Program is just one of many local programs focusing on bringing agricultural knowledge and hands-on experience directly into schools.
What is the ultimate goal of the School Garden Program? Wonacott hopes to instill within these children a love for and connection to the earth; to teach them that they can grow their own food; to lure them away from electronic screens; to engage them, delight them, and show them how fun science can be through teaching how plants function; and to encourage in each child a sense of self-direction and empowerment.
The lessons are designed specifically to “hook” the kids – grabbing their attention, and appealing to their imagination and as-yet-unjaded sense of wonder. To do this, lessons are age-appropriate, clear and simple, fast-paced, and often entertaining (for example, the performance of the “Wormy Wiggle” song and dance is unforgettable!). Master Gardener volunteers visit each classroom for one hour every month and get the kids outdoors to plant, grow, observe, harvest, prepare, and eat nutritious food.
CalFresh shares these goals. This state-sponsored nutrition program helps provide healthy food to low income families, with an emphasis on fresh and locally-grown produce. Both CalFresh and the Master Gardener Program headquarters are housed at the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Oroville, and the two programs share a coordinator, Karina Hathorn. The School Gardens Program benefits from that relationship through access to funding for, or direct provision of, curriculum, books, and other garden education supplies. Each teacher who participates in the School Garden Program can obtain classroom supplies that fall within approved CalFresh lists. CalFresh provides curriculum and other resources to interested schools within their five-county service area.
Wonacott's love for the earth and its bounty was developed early in her life by her father, an amateur naturalist who loved to garden. Her own passion for gardening is infectious; she notes that the classroom teachers love the School Gardens lessons as much as she does, noting “We have to turn teachers away.” There is a core group of six or seven dedicated Master Gardener volunteers who work in the schools each month; most are committed to a particular school. Wonacott says the classroom visits require at least two volunteers (preferably three), plus an engaged and committed participating teacher to make each lesson engaging and worthwhile.
The carefully-devised science-based lessons are inspirational and impressive. Our next Real Dirt article will focus more squarely on the classroom lessons, along with Wonacott's ambitious goals for the future of the Master Gardener School Garden Program and for the bigger picture of all school garden programs in our area. Schoolchildren in our county are lucky kids indeed!
To learn more about UC Butte County Master Gardeners and their upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, call our Hotline at (530) 538-7201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Bok Choy: JS [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]