Youth Gardeners Aid Horticultural Research, Learn New Skills
|As part of a unique education program in Allentown, Pa., Isis and Liz Soto document the practices of gardeners like Ligia delVillar (right) at the Casa Guadaloupe community center. Its a great opportunity for children to interact with older people, who tell them how they grow crops for the different foods they cook, said county horticulture agent Emelie Swackhamer. Photo by Emelie Swackhamer.|
Educators seeking innovative ways to prompt farmers, ranchers and other groups to adopt more sustainable production approaches might consider the participatory model, tested to great effect by SARE-funded Cornell researchers who worked with groups of gardeners in six Northeast communities. Their Garden Mosaics project engaged both adult gardeners and neighborhood youths, who worked together on Extension-led research projects with a truly local focus.
Under the guidance of Cornell-trained extension educators, kids in Baltimore, Allentown, New York City, Rochester, Buffalo and Philadelphia paired with adult gardeners to document the history, makeup, planting practices and soil quality of gardens in their communities. They tested research techniques, but children born and raised in cities also learned more about gardening. And, in documenting garden histories and unusual plants, they picked up successful interviewing and communication skills along with their green thumbs.
Many of the youthsaged 9 to 16blossomed themselves. There were some uninterested kids who didnt choose the project and, at the beginning, wouldnt look anyone in the eye, said Marianne Krasny, the Cornell project leader. By the end, they acted like the expert at the county fair. Krasny hopes to develop a deep well of community gardening practices that might be useful to city planners and scientists working in urban settings, as well as to identify unusual vegetables from other cultures.
The project strengthened educators ties to community centers and gardens, often a gathering place for inner-city ethnic populations, and honed their youth training skills. Several gardeners formed long-term mentoring relationships with the youths. For a lot of the children, their only knowledge of life is in an urban setting, said Emelie Swackhamer, a Lehigh County, Pa., horticulture agent who ran the Garden Mosaics project in Allentown. It was enlightening for them to realize how much gardening knowledge the adults have and they began to develop a sense of pride in themselves, too. Their experiences are posted at www.dnr.cornell.edu/gardenmosaics and will continue with a generous research grant from the National Science Foundation.
[For more information, go to http://www.sare.org/projects and search for ENE99-049]