Military kids and 4-H put green thumbs to work in garden

June 13, 2012 10:34:58 AM



Planting seeds for healthy living is a way of life for Lowndes County 4-H Agent Sharon Patrick, especially in her work at the Columbus Air Force Base. 


"Our on-base 4-H club has been learning about choosing healthy foods using the MyPlate guidelines, and when I heard about Burpee's Welcome Home Garden program, I thought it would be an excellent way to support the concepts we've studied -- eating healthy, exercising and being responsible," Patrick said. "I talked to the director of the CAFB youth center, and before you knew it, we had a garden planned." 


Patrick organized a team of Mississippi State University Extension Service 4-H staff to develop the garden and related lessons. On a sunny afternoon, children in the summer camp program and those who use the base's youth center for recreation learned about seeds, gardens and what plants need to grow. Then they went outside with Lowndes County Extension horticulturist Jeff Wilson, Patrick, youth center staff and volunteers to rake rows and plant seeds sent by the Burpee Seed Co., as part of the Welcome Home Garden program to pay tribute to America's military heroes. 


"We can incorporate food, nutrition and citizenship concepts through this garden, as the children will be able to take produce home to their families, share the fruits and vegetables with veterans on base and use what they grow in their Kids in the Kitchen program," said Kayla Fuentes, a 4-H military youth summer intern. "In addition to the garden here at the youth center, we gave away packets of seeds at a recent 5K fun run, so military families can plant their own gardens at home." 


The 4-H staff administered a quiz before and after the lesson to gauge what the children knew about plants and gardens. 


"Many of them already had a strong understanding about the reasons to garden," Fuentes said. "Their reasons for growing vegetables ranged from having fresh food, to saving money, to being strong. 


She said the garden will be a terrific way to bring together children of many different ages to work toward a common goal. While teens raked the tilled garden soil into rows for planting, younger children lined up to plant tomato and bell pepper seeds in a special growing tray filled with peat seedling starters. Master Gardener intern Alma Greer talked to them about soil depth and the colors of the produce they would grow. 


"Part of our youth development program is to enhance the kids' abilities, to give them life skills, and to work on character and leadership," said Kayline Hamilton, director of the CAFB youth center. "The Welcome Home Garden is a good fit for our kids because a lot of them have family members who have been deployed or have been on remote assignments. They can come back, get seeds, plant gardens behind their homes and enjoy the fruits, vegetables and flowers they grow together." 


Eight-year-old Collin McWhorter waited patiently at the back of the line for his turn to plant seeds. As an experienced gardener, he knew there was no rush. 


"I think this is cool," McWhorter said. "I've never planted many vegetables, but I've helped my grandma plant wildflowers, aspens and columbines at her cabin in Colorado. I like to eat peppers, green beans and celery, and I love corn. The best part about having a garden is watching everything grow and picking, but my main job is usually weeding. I'm getting better at it." 


McWhorter, who recently came to Mississippi from Osan, South Korea, hopes to plant a garden when he and his family move into their new home in Caledonia in June.