Agriculture education programs do not only teach students how to be gardeners and farmers. They also train tomorrow’s scientists, nutritionists, teachers and health professionals. Applied ag education programs with hands-on learning are important to help young people gain knowledge.
While the COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges to the delivery of traditional 4-H programs, 4-H agents in the Central Region determined that a healthy, hands-on, family friendly project club focused on gardening was important for development and appropriate for delivery while youth were learning remotely at home. The 4-H Seed of the Month Club emerged to meet these needs.
4-H agents created a nine-month seed subscription that was made available to youth throughout the region beginning in August 2020. With this project, participating 4-H’ers were provided seeds of various plants, including rainbow carrots, easter egg radishes, lettuce, green beans, okra, squash, pine tree seedlings and coneflowers, which are great at attracting pollinators. Agents used the LSU AgCenter Louisiana Suggested Planting Guide publication as a resource to select which seeds to offer each month. 4-H agents distributed seeds either through pre-packed mailers or local extension offices. 4-H’ers were also provided educational materials on how to plant, maintain and harvest the plants. The agents worked as a team to create a monthly publication for each featured plant that the youth could refer to as they navigated through each stage of growth.
Approximately 350 youth from across 10 central Louisiana parishes participated in the project club over a nine-month period. 4-H agents collaborated on marketing, advertising, writing educational publications and distributing seeds.
A survey was utilized to gauge the value and success of the program. With a variety of questions to collect input from youth, agents were able to realize many successful impacts from the project club. The survey revealed that students overwhelmingly wanted to continue the Seed of the Month project. Survey results also revealed that the top seeds by preference were green beans, lettuce, carrots and sweet potatoes. Radishes were listed as the least popular seed distributed. Most surveys indicated a family member was supportive of the program, with moms and grandpas as the most invested.
Student survey responses indicated that participants learned how to properly grow each seed variety, including how to space, sow, fertilize and take care of each plant from seed to harvest. Many 4-H’ers shared that they used trial and error to be successful. For example, one student said that he had to put a fence up around the garden to prevent rabbits from getting into the garden patch. Others shared that they had to carry water to their gardens or that they lost many plants to overwatering caused by an abundance of rain.
While many students shared photos of successful harvests, some were dismayed that they lost plants due to an unusually hard Louisiana freeze. Weather was a recurring topic in the evaluation. Agents reflected that youth experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations farmers and gardeners face.
When asked what students liked least about the 4-H project, one member said he disliked his parents trying to get him to eat what he grew. Perhaps the “eat your vegetables” conversation needs more attention in the future!