June 6, 2008

Gardening projects and activities have been part of 4-H for a long time, but University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agents in Madison and Christian counties are spicing up traditional gardening activities. The 4H Youth development agents are teaching youth to grow ingredients that they will use to make salsa. This is the first time both counties have worked on a salsa garden project, and early into the process they are dealing with the effects of the weather. Due to this year’s wet spring, Christian County has yet to plant any vegetables. They plan to work in the garden this Friday. Madison County youths were only recently able to plant their three raised-bed gardens. Despite their late planting, both groups plan to harvest the vegetables and make salsa by August. The two groups will be raising different varieties of the traditional salsa ingredients: tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro. While the two projects are similar, they do have some differences. “We’re hoping to help kids make a connection with their food and farming,” said Miranda Shearer, Madison County 4H Youth development agent. Madison County’s program started as an offshoot of the county’s Junior Master Gardener program. “We wanted to take some of those ideas and do a new spin,” Shearer said. “Something that’s not just gardening, but connecting your garden with the food and the finished product. So, they will go all the way through the process.” Young people in the program meet bi-weekly but rotate garden responsibilities between meetings. During each meeting they are also given a take-home experiment that further explores gardening basics. “They’ll learn about soil structure, water requirements for plants, how to actually transplant plants themselves and plant seeds,” Shearer said. “And we’re really going to learn all of the gardening basics hands-on.” Once they harvest their vegetables, the Madison County youth will learn about food preservation as they make their salsa. They will also have lessons in marketing, as they will create labels for their jars of salsa and business cards in order to gain a sense of product design and layout. In Christian County, the project started as the idea of 4-H volunteer Elizabeth Riley, a student at the University of Kentucky who is home on summer break. She will be leading many of the activities in the pilot project under the guidance of Christian County agents Toni Riley, 4-H and youth development, and Kelly Jackson, horticulture. Through a partnership with the local Boys and Girls Club, Housing Authority and Fort Campbell Army installation, inner city youths and youngsters with a parent in the military will be working with 4-H to grow a salsa garden. “We want to teach kids,” Toni Riley said. “I think there’s going to be a big push in the next several years for locally grown produce and producing your own. These youths will get to experience that and will receive the nutritional benefits from it.” Toni Riley said that since this is the first year for the project, the garden will be a demonstration garden. The youths will be trying out a lot of different gardening methods and plant varieties to find out which ones grow the best. Once the vegetables are harvested, not only will the young people be making salsa, but Toni Riley said they will likely use some of their tomatoes to make tomato sauce. Hopefully, each child will be able to take some of the finished product home. In future years, she hopes to see the project grow to the point where youths grow and sell some of their salsa.

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