Summer’s growth spurts

Published 9:52 am Friday, June 26, 2009

Some kids this summer may develop green thumbs, but all will get their hands dirty in a free educational opportunity through the University of Minnesota and 4-H.

Master Gardeners, youth leaders, AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) workers and Mower County’s U of M Extension have teamed up to teach children in grades 3 and up how to plant, weed, water and eventually grow their own vegetables, herbs and flowers.

The group meets every Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon at the 4-H Building on the Mower County Fairgrounds. The Austin Public School District provides free lunch.

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About 13 kids met on Thursday. Participants reported on the growth of their plants, which they document in garden journals. They also played a “web” game where they stood in a circle, each holding a cardboard character — “wind,” “human,” “mushroom,” “seeds,” for example — and connected to each other via ropes to learn about the characters’ relationships with each other.

“We always try to do something even if the weather is bad,” said Ruth Neil, Extension nutrition education assistant for Mower County.

Master Gardener Pam Schmit, of Austin, helped out on Thursday.

“They came to us at the Master Gardeners Club and there was an interest to start a Junior Gardeners program,” she explained.

Schmit said the children have planted flowers, herbs, tomatoes, green beans, lettuce and cabbage, “the basic garden essentials.” Master gardeners also check on the gardens each Monday night.

‘We rely on our volunteers a lot,” Neil said.

Later this summer, Jim Stiles of Super Fresh will help the group install a rain garden on the fairgrounds.

The program will wrap up in August, with a Harvest Party Sept. 3 to share the fruits of their labor.

“We’ll do some homemade jam and homemade salsa,” Neil said.