Do your kids want to learn about horticulture, gardening and vegetables, soil and bugs, and so much more? They should join the Northern Shenandoah Valley Junior Master Gardener Home School Program!
As a Junior Master Gardener (Jr MG) in Winchester, children are student gardeners during the class that normally runs from March through June. Then they’ll get to plant at our vegetable garden. Jr MGs will garden and nurture the plants throughout the summer. All of the produce is picked and donated to the C-CAP program in Winchester.
Interested in the program? Call Tammy Epperson at the VCE-Frederick Extension Office at 540-665-5699 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
History of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Junior Master Gardener Home School Program
The Jr MG program’s planning started in the fall of 2009. Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners and the Virginia Cooperative Extension 4-H Program wanted to teach children the basics of gardening and the value of giving back to the community. The goal was to do classroom training over the winter months and then get the students into the garden to plant and care for it through the summer. The students would learn during winter and then put their learning into practice during the growing season and give back by donating produce.
The first classes began in early 2010. Children attended classes once a week and learned about gardening, ecology, water resources, pollution, herbs, nutrition, bugs, and jobs in the horticultural industry, plus many more topics. We tried to give them an overview of how gardening is important to everyday life and how it affects their community.
We planted our first garden that spring, when use of an old lot in the middle of Winchester was donated. We had a volunteer come in and rototill, and the children sifted through the dirt and found pieces of pottery and items probably left over from an old livery stable or farm. The old lot hadn’t been used in many years, and the children worked hard to improve the soil.
That first year we used plants donated by our volunteers and seeds left over from a store and from volunteers. We used old fence wire for trellis. The children got water from the town run through a bucket system. (Luckily, we later had a volunteer bring us a hand pump, which ended our lugging buckets from the stream). Children and their parents or guardians agreed to garden throughout the summer and perform the tasks to keep the garden alive.
That first year and every year since, the children have planted, nurtured, and harvested the vegetables in the garden. They donate the produce to C-CAP, a non-denominational group that provides support to the homeless and underprivileged of Winchester.
The Northern Shenandoah Valley Junior Master Gardener Home School Program Today
The Jr MG program continues to provide education throughout the gardening season and hands-on experience and community giveback during the summer. Northern Shenandoah Valley Extension Master Gardeners partner with the VCE 4-H Extension staff. Master Gardeners teach the children and help in the garden over the summer. VCE 4-H Extension staff also helps in the garden and provides the “paperwork” and administration backup to the program. We make a “contract“ with the children and their guardians that they will maintain the garden and continue the program throughout the growing season.
We are still working to improve the soil in the old lot. With the support of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardener Association, we have started to buy long-term items that are needed. We have some garden tools to use, and Rotary of Winchester helped by donating money toward a tool shed. Southern States donated a small water tank. We continue to improve our garden with borrowed and donated equipment, and we thank all of our donors and individuals that support the children and C-CAP each year.