“I’m amazed that anything grew! Carrot seeds were planted two inches in the ground,” relays Master Gardener and Boys & Girls Club of Douglas Youth Development Professional, Mary Sonesen. “We started our garden club by deciding what kind of vegetables we wanted to plant, then we worked the ground and purchased the seeds and plants. Each day I’d take a group of kids to the garden and with some guidance they did all of the planting. The next day they’d race to the garden expecting to see some overnight huge growth. I really didn’t know if I would be able to keep their attention throughout the process because kids are accustomed to instant gratification.”

Planting was done and daily watering began, Mary came back from the garden and again said “I don’t know if we are going to get anything to grow, we got a little carried away with watering and I think that the majority of the seeds have been washed away.” But eventually the seeds sprouted and things began to grow!

A lot of the kids who attend BGCD live in apartments or trailer courts and don’t have a lot of time outdoors. As a reward for watering, thinning and weeding, they got to take a few trips through the water sprinkler and play in the grass, which was an opportunity they normally did not have. Getting their hands in the dirt and being part of food production was an enriching experience for the summer club members! One mother commented in the fall about how easy it was now to get her son to eat and try different vegetables. He had really enjoyed the garden and experiencing the garden produce fresh from the garden.

The process started in early spring of 2013, when Chief Professional Officer, Amy Sonesen, told her Resource Development Director she had a really wild idea of having the kids experience the process of food production first hand, “I wanted to take our “Growing Sprouts” program to a higher level.” Megan Albright, Resource Development Director, sought the support of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. “Our goal was to expose urban children to growing their own food through a summer self-sustainability program, says Albright. “We researched ways to garden efficiently in a small amount of space and decided we wanted to construct a hoop house which would allow us to start growing plants earlier in the spring and continue harvesting later in the fall.”

Albright submitted a grant request to the Wyoming Department of Agriculture for a Community Garden for Nonprofit Organizations, Wyoming Specialty Crop Grant Program stating the following goals:

  1. Club members K-9th grade will understand agriculture and the agriculture process.
  2. Club members will learn where their food comes from,
  3. Club member will learn responsibility while caring for a garden
  4. Club members will learn how to purchase, sow, tend, harvest and prepare vegetables and fruits for consumption.

BGCD was granted $3,500 for their community garden project and the program leader, Mary Sonesen, started working with Ted Craig and the club members on the project.

The Boys & Girls Club is located near the downtown area of Douglas, WY and has no garden area. A few years back, a group of Master Gardeners constructed raised beds, on asphalt beside the club which allowed for a small garden area. Wanting to expand, Sonesen worked with Christ Episcopal Church located on the same block as the Club. The church allowed the Boys & Girls Club to use an unused playground area in the backyard of the Church rectory to for their community garden project.

Sonesen reports she was surprised at the amount of support received from the Department of Ag and specifically Ted Craig. After being awarded the grant Sonesen, expected to receive some verbal support as to what type of hoop house to build and maybe some construction plans, but the Ag Department crew came and totally built the entire hoop house. While they did the largest amount of the work, Craig would frequently solicit the help of kids from the club. So between Ag staff and Club Staff, several club members learned how to use a screw gun, drill holes and were involved in all phases of construction of the hoop house.

Since the beginning of the program the kids had been given instruction and guidance from adults, but did all of the planting, watering, thinning, eeding and harvesting of the garden. It was truly rewarding to see the ownership they took in the project, and the amount of produce from our modest garden was also amazing, says Mary Sonesen, “One day we harvested 33 years of corn!” On average, during the summer 66 kids attend the program and are fed breakfast and lunch at the Club. The day of the corn harvest the ears of corn were split in two, and every child feasted on corn on the cob they had all worked at growing!

“I was amazed at how little the kids knew about food production. When the corn plants came up, they had no idea what they were, but as the summer progressed their interest and knowledge of food production increased exponentially and they bombarded me with questions about different vegetables. When we started harvesting vegetables, the kids all wanted to take something home, so I made sure that each child
was able to take some of the produce home. When asked the next day how they had prepared the food, I discovered produce going home with the kids was not being used because their parents didn’t know how to prepare it. As a result, I began a program called Healthy Snacks from the Garden. We prepared the produce in all sorts of ways and the kids really liked the healthy snacks!

Next spring, we plan to start many of their own seeds and get a head start on gardening with the help of the hoop house. The hoop house will also allow for planting of succession crops, which will keep the club in fresh supply of vegetables throughout the summer and fall. “We hope to have the kids sell some of their starter plants in the spring and produce in the fall so they can take the project full circle from production to harvest, to consumption to income!

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