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Master Program Takes Gardens To Children
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Kids across the state are learning from Master Gardeners the power plants have to beautify their surroundings.
In Meridian, Master Gardeners have teamed up with the Meridian Public School District's Parents As Teachers program to offer a gardening project. Cathy Trawick works with the school program and also is a Master Gardener. She works out of an office in a public housing project.
Parents As Teachers is geared to reach the parents of young children before they're in school, but older kids began congregating around the school building looking for things to do. Trawick saw their needs and rose to the occasion.
"I started being just a friend to some of the older kids who wanted to be seen as something more than a trouble-maker or a kid from the projects," Trawick said.
She started doing arts and crafts with the youth and got them to help decorate the building they were using. But she needed something to keep them busy after this work was done.
"Our building was surrounded by just grass and sidewalks," Trawick said. "The housing development gave the building to the schools, and we decided to put plants out front to make it look nice."
Trawick went through Master Gardening training with Steve Strong, Lauderdale County agent with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, so she could tackle this project.
"I think the reason her program was so uniquely successful was that she was already working with youth and was aware of the Extension Service, primarily because of her involvement with her own children in 4-H," Strong said. "Through that 4-H connection, she learned about other Extension programs like Master Gardeners that could help her with the work she was already doing with youth."
Trawick organized a kick-off event in March and about 25 area children and several 4-H club volunteers arrived for work. They put in flower beds, spread soil and planted flowers for a butterfly garden. Grants from the Chevron Community Pride program and Keep American Beautiful helped cover some expenses. Today, the facility has a beautiful butterfly garden around the building, and youth regularly perform maintenance duties to keep the plants healthy.
"Our Extension volunteers have been working for a while to establish gardens in the projects," Strong said. "This is a great way for them to enjoy it in the neighborhood. It provides a way for kids who don't have a lot to take ownership and responsibility in their community. Once they take interest in an activity like gardening, it opens the door to learning about other things in the world around them."
In Ocean Springs, Master Gardeners are working to beautify school grounds. At Oak Park Elementary, they installed and maintain two flower beds, one a hummingbird and butterfly garden and the other a 16 foot by 16 foot plot in a courtyard. Plans are underway to fill a school courtyard with a large greenhouse and art walk.
Master Gardener Lori Kelly said the school's garden was pretty much abandoned and full of weeds when they started, hiding any flowers that might have been present.
"When we began working with the students, they usually wouldn't know anything about plants and nature, and we even had to teach them how to work in the dirt," Kelly said.
Master Gardener Jim Williams said children are brought out from class six at a time to work in the garden. Each is assigned a task such as digging the hole, placing the plant or watering. Williams maintains the gardens monthly after they are planted.
"We usually work with the kids in the spring and fall, and plant flowers that bloom all year," Williams said. "We want children to appreciate nature and the environment. They best thing would be if they would go home and inspire their parents to plant gardens.
Walter Walker, Jackson County Extension agent, praised the county's Master Gardener chapter as one of the best in the state. About 35 active Master Gardeners formed their own chapter in 1997.
"When they were able to have their own chapter, they got more active in the county," Walker said. "They do some really good work in our area."
Jackson County is one of the pilot counties for a Junior Master Gardener program modeled after a similar program in Texas, but modified for local needs.
"The Junior Master Gardener program is another way to reach young people and interest them in gardening," Walker said. "It also teaches them a skill they can carry on for life."
Contact: Steve Strong, (601) 482-9764 and Walter Walker, (228) 769-3047