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Published June 28, 2009, 12:00 AM

Master gardeners in training

The 20 participants in the Junior Master Garden Program headed to their garden patch with hoes to clear the weeds on Tuesday. They discovered the garden was covered in a blanket of weeds because of the abundant moisture.

By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press

The 20 participants in the Junior Master Garden Program headed to their garden patch with hoes to clear the weeds on Tuesday.

They discovered the garden was covered in a blanket of weeds because of the abundant moisture.

Comments such as, “Oh my gawd!” could be heard as they started hoeing and pulling the weeds.

The vegetables were planted June 2 on a garden plot located at the North Dakota State University Dickinson Research Extension Center. The youth are participating in an eight-week class, coordinated through the Stark-Billings County NDSU Extension Service.

The Junior Master Garden Program was started last year to encourage gardening and to look at society’s move toward healthy living.

“There’s a lot of talk about a green environment. This is a way to provide young people early on with a hands-on experience with these objectives in mind,” said Extension Agent Kurt Froelich.

Growing a successful garden is just one of the program’s lessons. Each week, students cover another topic such as parts of a plant, insects and disease, ecology and the environment, landscape horticulture and the use of herbs, fruits and vegetables.

The program is taught by the adult Master Garden leaders, who completed a class last fall. In addition to a fee, the participants are asked to give 48 hours of community service, said Froelich.

“Last fall, I told them I wanted them to take and run with this Junior Master Garden Program,” he said.

Froelich supports the class by facilitating times, location and equipment needs, but the lessons are taught by volunteer adults.

The junior program is designed for youth ages 10-12 and is free. The cost is covered by state funds appropriated by the 2007 Legislature.

The adults rely on a curriculum guide to help them introduce a topic. For Sheila Hartl’s class on ecology, the students made Critter Condos using recycled newspaper, scraps and worms.

Hands-on activities are central to the program.

“Keep in mind 10 and 12-year-olds don’t want to sit in the classroom. They want to do things. We have a lot of hands-on activities — that’s what young people like, to learn by doing. We’re going back to the 4-H model — learn by doing, having their own experiences,” said Froelich.

In evaluating the program, this year’s youth were encouraged to plant early maturing plants. But again, there’s more to the program than just the garden.

“I cannot put a dollar value on the interaction of adults and youth,” he said.

The youth and adults are grouped into colors when they disperse into small groups around the extension grounds.

For one lesson, they learned how to estimate the height of a tree using a reference point

Another day, they grabbed bug nets to discover what was lurking in the grass, shrubs and bushes.

For some of the adults, this is their first experience at teaching lesson.

“But when you take the curriculum guide and use the materials and follow it, it’s easy,” Froelich said.

Hartl has enjoyed her participation in the Junior Master Garden class.

“I’m amazed at how much knowledge the kids have,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful program.”

Kelley Jilek, who taught parts of the plant, added, “I love it. It’s fun to see the kids get excited.”

For an upcoming lesson on fruits and vegetables, Sue Jackson plans to compare peanut butter to sun butter — a mixture of peanut butter with sunflower seeds. Meanwhile, Mary Maus will make pizza, using herbs that can be grown in a garden.

Junior participant Sophia Stuckle admitted a fear of insects, but said, “Last week we were collecting bugs. That was cool!”

Jillian Jassek added, “I think what’s fun is it’s not just about gardening, but everything that’s involved.”

The Stark-County Extension office in Dickinson is recruiting adults

to enroll in the 2009 Master Garden Program. Those interested need to register by July 31 at the Stark-Billings County office at 701-456-7665 or www.Kurt.Froelich@ndsu.edu.

Classes will be held in Stark County starting Friday, Aug. 28, from 7:30-11:30 a.m. The class runs every Friday thereafter, ending Oct. 16.

This class covers a variety of garden and horticulture topics such as tree pruning, diseases, ornamentals and landscape design.

After the course is completed, volunteers give back to their communities — the Junior Master Garden Program, Roughrider Days and Fair 4-H events or maybe at their churches.

Danielle Stuckle, who is Dickinson Museum director, took the class to learn skills for upcoming museum projects of gardening and landscaping.

“This has helped tremendously. I feel a lot more comfortable,” she said.

Jilek added, “I’ve always loved gardening, but this class makes sure we’re doing it right. We don’t always know the answers, but we know where to get the information.”

David Anderson enrolled in last fall’s Master Gardener class at the urging of his wife who likes to garden.

“My wife took the class a year ago. I like trees and landscaping and now we have a nice balance,” he said.

The Master Gardeners also serve as resources to the Stark-Billings office. If Froelich is unavailable, gardeners will be on hand to help find the answers.

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