A new club in town is perfect for kids who like digging in the dirt and helping others.
The Junior Master Gardener program, designed by Texas A&M University's Extension Service, has arrived in Georgia. Chapters are sprouting up through the University of Georgia's Extension Service.
A Lot Like the Adult Version
The program is modeled after the adult Master Gardener program, a volunteer training for people who love gardening and community service. In the adult program, participants complete a horticulture training program and work as volunteers at a county Extension office.
The Junior Master Gardener program is similar to 4-H. It stresses leadership and community service. Along the way, the students also learn about gardening.
"The curriculum can easily be adapted for use as a club, by parents who home school their children or by church groups," said Krissy Slagle, a program assistant with the Georgia Master Gardeners.
"The lessons in the manual are horticulture-based," Slagle said, "but they cover many other areas. For example, one lesson teaches math skills using fruits and vegetables."
Students get a certificate for each completed chapter and must complete eight chapters to become a certified Junior Master Gardener. Each chapter includes club work, homework and a community service project.
Fayetteville and Newnan Clubs are First
Two of the first clubs in Georgia are in Fayetteville and Newnan. The Newnan club is a pilot program started by Master Gardener Heidi Roemer.
"I started the club in February to fulfill my Master Gardener volunteer commitment," she said. "I wanted to do something with children, and Carolyn Fjeran of the Coweta County Extension office recommended the Junior Master Gardener program."
Roemer coordinates her club with Summer Grove, a local environmentally friendly community. "The subdivision contains a nature-friendly golf course and bluebird houses throughout the neighborhood," Roemer said.
Roemer and eight members have bimonthly club meetings.
"We've completed four chapters in the manual and are now preparing our community service projects," she said. "We plan to make pressed-flower bookmarks for a local convalescence home and build a compost pile for the community."
Suzanne Rocus runs the Fayette County club, along with the local Extension Service program assistant and a handful of volunteers. The club started after Rocus won a program manual at a gardening conference.
"Our Master Gardeners were interested in starting the program, and our county agent supported the idea," Rocus said.
Rocus wanted to offer the program through the school system, but with 13 elementary schools, it wasn't feasible. She started one chapter and has meetings twice a month at the county Extension office, averaging 18 students.
Learning About Community Service and Gardening
The children take the community service mission seriously. They bagged tree seedlings to be donated at the annual Christmas tree recycling event. And to show their appreciation to the county offices where they meet, the club planted flower boxes to decorate the building's exterior. And in their current project, they plan to grow vegetables for needy people.
The club recently competed in and won ribbons at the Southeastern Flower Show.
"The program's not only about gardening," Rocus said. "The manual is full of wonderful activities that cover everything from ecology to enriching reading skills. The kids recently made apple sauce from fresh apples."
Junior Master Garden clubs are each as unique as their members. "Most of the children in our club come from families that enjoy gardening, and they all love to get dirty," Rocus said.
Roemer's students, however, have the green thumbs in their families. "Parents keep telling me not to send plants home if I want them to live," she said.
Roemer, who has completed her required Master Gardener volunteer hours, plans to extend her pilot chapter. "I'm going to continue the club another eight weeks," she said. "I just love it."
Learn more about the Junior Master Gardener program at http://jmg.tamu.edu.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)