With generous grants from St. John United Way, the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H branch has been able to do some wonderful things for the youth of St. John Parish. This past school year we had numerous club and parish-wide successes. Achievement Day was a huge success despite not having a 4-H Agent at the time, thanks to our incredible volunteers. Every kid who attended Summer Camp and 4-H U (formerly Short Course) did so at no cost thanks to United Way.
And thanks to those same grants, about 80 kids at different schools are enjoying school gardens in St. John Parish. In St. Charles Parish, River Parishes Master Gardeners are sponsoring gardens at St. Charles Borromeo in Destrehan for about 40 kids in two first-grade classes. Numerous studies have shown that kids who garden are more likely to make better eating choices (more vegetables), are more willing to try new foods, and are more likely to want to spend time outdoors exercising.
The gardens are also used as “outdoor classrooms,” extending and reinforcing what’s taught in class. Multiplication facts, for instance, are bolstered looking at how many rows of tomatoes times how many plants per row. Botany / science obviously fits, but so do writing, reading, and even social studies. Students also benefit by learning patience, taking turns, and sharing with their peers and others.
St. Peter Elementary in Reserve has gotten some grants of their own, helping the efforts there. They have about 25 kids gardening with teachers Natalie Natell and Lovey Comeaux. This is a garden specifically for 4-H students, so older kids (7th grade) also have leadership opportunities to teach younger (down to 4th grade) kids.
Emily C. Watkins in LaPlace has three classes of second graders growing green beans, tomatoes, and other fall crops now. Latoya Mason, Melissa Hanrahan, and Antoinette Dickerson are the teachers leading them. Each class has two 8’X4’ beds and an archway, the latter of which has snow peas climbing up.
St. Charles Borromeo has both first-grade classes gardening. Teachers utilizing gardens there are Kristen McGuire, Kristen Laurent, and teaching assistant Becky Smith. Students there share a pair of raised beds with an archway between for snow peas as well. They’re also picking green beans now and a few herbs.
Besides teachers, LSU AgCenter Master Gardeners help all this happen. The Louisiana Master Gardeners (LMG’s) all begin this program by taking fourteen three-hour classes, plus labs, on myriad horticulture topics. Having been trained, they now help with numerous service projects. Our River Parish group covers St. John and St. Charles Parishes primarily, with a smaller presence in St. James.
LMG’s Richard and Suzette Goodrow, along with Judy Hurry are lending time and horticultural expertise at Emily C. Watkins. Mary Oncale has “adopted” the gardens at St. Peter. Charlie Smith, Robin Grunwald, Cheryl Durand, and others are working with St. Charles Borromeo in Destrehan.
Other exciting news is that we’ve recently hired a 4-H Agent for St. John who is spending time with kids at all gardens as well. Ashley Terry began working with us in September and is making great strides directing youth gardening in our parish, along with all her other 4-H duties.