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Planting seeds for growth.

Remember childhood days of picking dandelions with white-tufted heads that with a breath of air became tiny airborne seeds afloat in the wind, carrying a wish. Remember the delight in finding an unexpected blackberry bush and the sweet, fresh taste of blackberries as you popped them into your mouth. Children and gardens are a natural combination.

Gardening is no longer a pastime for the older generation; in astounding numbers youth gardens have sprung up across the nation. Approximately two million young people are in school GROW LAB programs, and in 1994, 543,288 kids from 4-H camps studied plant science and participated in gardening. What better environment to introduce this popular activity to children than camp.

Learning the Cycle of Life

Gardening adds to any camp nature program. According to Kathy Hempel, former assistant director of Snow Mountain Camp in Nevada City, California, and current art director for The Garden Magic Kids, a national program to encourage gardening in young people, kids can learn the cycle of life from a garden: planting seeds, taking care of the garden, harvesting, eating the food, and using the waste from the food as part of a compost to return nutrients to the soil.

Lauren Ebbecke, camp director for 4-H Camp Howe in Goshen, Massachusetts, agrees. "A garden teaches kids how to care and nurture a living thing. It helps them get closer to nature and is a wonderful hands-on activity," Ebbecke says.

Hard Work Has Its Rewards

Not only do campers learn rich lessons about the environment from working in the elements, planting, weeding, and harvesting, they learn about personal growth as well. They learn that hard work does have its rewards.

"We eat what we grow," says Dick Thomas, camp director of Chewonki in Wiscasset, Maine. "They [kids] can make a real connection when they know the vegetables for their salads came from what they produced. Our farm is a haven, a great place for kids who are struggling," adds Thomas.

Instill Nutritional Understanding

In your camp gardening project, you can dispel the myth that fruits and vegetables originate in the local grocery store. Gardening can help teach kids how fresh vegetables are grown, what fresh vegetables taste like, and what the best food choices are. The garden experiences they have at camp may instill a lifelong pattern of healthy eating habits and physical activity.

Benefits of Gardening Go Beyond Camp

Reaping the benefits of a garden can extend beyond camp. Campers can reach out to the community and share their gardening skills and even their garden's harvest with those in need. At Chewonki, campers are using their gardening expertise to help with projects on a community farm in Wiscasset.

Easy Steps to Start Gardening at Camp

To start a garden at camp, follow these easy steps and you will help provide campers with countless teachable moments - the garden becomes their classroom and nature their teacher.

* Establish a purpose. Identify reasons for creating a garden at camp. What do you want to teach?

* Get input. Discuss organizing your garden with the camp board, parents, campers, counselors, and instructors.

* Include local nurseries and garden clubs. They are usually happy and willing to donate seeds to you. The National Gardening Association distributes grants to youth gardening programs. Soliciting donations from companies is not difficult; the contribution benefits the campers and the companies, too.

* Choose the location. Decide the dimensions of your garden. Start out small, a plot ten feet by ten feet is recommended.

* Determine the type of garden. Decide what you want to plant and consider your environment.

* Determine needs. What tools and equipment do you need? Local nurseries, hardware stores, and campers' families may donate equipment (i.e., watering cans, shovels, and rakes).

* Test the soil. Determine what nutrients are in the soil. You can purchase soil tests that have easy instructions at local hardware stores. The Garden Magic Kids organization has soil tests available for purchase. Teach campers about the soil. They need to understand that the soil is one of the most important components of the garden.

* Prepare the garden site. You will need to till the soil, prepare the beds, and create a walkway between the beds. You should dig to a depth of two feet to give plants better drainage and to allow the roots to grow deepen

* Plant the garden. Before planting, rake the soil until it is crumbly. To ensure success, start seeds inside in egg or milk cartons; gradually expose the seedlings to sunlight and then move them to the garden.

* Grow organically. The trend in camp gardening is to introduce the value of growing organically without pesticides or chemicals.

* Determine responsibilities. Assign campers or cabin groups to certain tasks, such as weeding and watering, Include the entire camp in the garden project and cover every aspect of garden maintenance.

Keeping a Garden Journal

There is much to learn, according to Hempel, through the eyes and thoughts of children. The campers at Snow Mountain Camp keep a journal of what they observe in the garden, After they have completed the program, they read from their journals. "They wrote beautiful poems about what they saw in the garden," says Hempel. Writing in a journal is a way for campers to show their growth and to record the progress of the garden.


Statistics and the ten steps to youth gardens courtesy of The Garden Magic Kids[TM].


The Garden Magic Kids, P.O. Box 6007, Healdsburg, CA 95448-6007, 800-431-SOIL. A national program providing incentives and fun activities to promote gardening among youth. The organization rewards every gardening member with a certificate of registration in The National Registry of Children's Gardens, which will be presented to the President of the United States in the year 2000.

Garden Club of America, 598 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022, 212-753-8287.

The Gardeners of America, 5560 Merle Hay Rd., P.O. Box 241, Johnston, 1A 50131-0241, 515-278-0295. Sponsors gardening programs for youth including the Giant Sunflower Contest and the Big Pumpkin Contest for youth sixteen and under.

The National Gardening Association, 180 Flynn Ave, Burlington, VT 05401, 802-863-1308. Conducts programs providing technical assistance, materials, and grants to children's gardens nationwide.

Teresa Nicodemus is the assistant editor of Camping Magazine. She wishes to extend a special thank you to Linda and Kathy Hempel of The Garden Magic Kids, Dick Thomas of Chewonki, Lauren Ebbecke of 4-H Camp Howe, and Bob Schultz, ACA's director of public relations, for their enthusiasm and contributions to this article.

"Programming" is open to anyone who has ideas or activities to share. If you would like to contribute, please send your ideas to: "Programming," Camping Magazine 5000 State Road 67 North, Martinsville, IN 46151-7902 or e-mail
COPYRIGHT 1998 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:camp gardening projects
Author:Nicodemus, Teresa
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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