Carol Massey column: 4-H camp provides natural fun

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

There is a kid in all of us. Sometimes the opportunity to play just happens to become a learning experience that benefits young and old(er) alike. When master gardeners start to play, the activity almost always includes the outdoors and dirt.
Children seem to like that. So it was with great anticipation we began our second year of 4-H Summer Fun Horticultural Camp. A weeklong schedule of programs was developed and planned to include opportunities for children to not only learn, but to have a good time and to have something tangible to show for their efforts.
Our week began with a project called “Garden in a Jar.” Viable terrariums used to be the rage in the 1960s and ’70s, and they are making a comeback with increased awareness of environmental concerns. We go so far as to use recycled plastic jars as our containers. A lot of pork rinds were eaten for this cause.
The lesson involves suitable plants for the environment planned, whether the site will be a dry or wet one, maintenance and sustainability. Students participating in this workshop included brothers Matthew and William Jones, Tyler Jones, Hailey Overcash, siblings Michael and Meredith Stanley, Amber Talbert, Lillie Tucker, Preston Turner and Jordan Van Voorhis.
Day two was a travelogue. “From the Grower, to the Grocer, to the Kitchen” shows the children in a first-person narrative exactly how produce gets from the grower to the grocery store and finally to the kitchen to be prepared as the food we eat. Our experience began at Patterson Farms where the tomatoes are lined up row after row, acres upon acres. Horticultural Agent Darrell Blackwelder was in his element explaining to the kids the mechanics of planting and caring for thousands of tomato plants.
We went from the fields to the packing house for a first hand view of the process of sorting, grading and packaging of the tomatoes. From storage rooms to tractor trailers to distribution centers to grocery stores and markets in several states: the process starts in Rowan County. Also included in the field tours were crops of peppers, cucumbers, cantaloupes and a stop at a local blueberry pick-your-own farm. The 4-Hers and volunteers alike would pick a few berries, eat a few berries. Eventually enough were gathered for the project to follow.
Our tour concluded in the produce section of the local Harris-Teeter where produce manager Tim Causey engaged the group with origins of different fruits and vegetables. Most of the kids had never seen, much less eaten, a spaghetti squash or a mango. They were quite interested in the multitude of countries supplying produce to our local store.
We then returned to the Extension Office for a quick lunch and prepared for the afternoon session. Family and Consumer Science Agent Toi Degree put on her apron to lead the cooking session with the kids. And what a time they had. After some study, the spaghetti squash was prepped and tucked in the over. The mango was peeled and sampled by all and deemed quite tasty. Toi shared the origins of each and the benefits of both. When the squash was done, duly buttered and sampled, all were impressed that a vegetable could taste like a noodle.
All of the kids became pastry chefs for a day, with the preparing of blueberry muffins from their fresh-picked fruits. Sarah Burris, Zachary Foutz, Iasia Hargrave, Kimber Myers, Katie O’Neal, Hailey Overcash, Jalee Rollins, Ebony Stockton, Amber Talbert and Preston Turner not only had warm blueberry muffins to take home, but a better understanding of where food comes from.
Day three was a lesson in water wise plants and Xeriscaping. (Xeros is Greek for dry.) With the recent drought and more and more concerns about the water supply, children are interested in knowing about conservation and water resources. There were discussions on our water table, and what affects the quality of our water. We talked about rain barrels and cisterns, noting the benefits of harvesting rainwater.
As the topic turned to drought tolerant plants, the children began planning a Xeriscape container. These dish gardens would be planted with succulents and other plants with similar water requirements. Quite a difference from the containers that were planted on Monday. Matthew and William Jones, Miranda Miller, Hannah Moseley, Kimber Myers, Hailey Overcash, Jalee Rollins, Heather Stebe and Amber Talbert each took home a functional Xeriscape garden. Many of the gardens were enhanced with pebbles and other garden art.
And speaking of garden art, how much fun can kids have with polished rocks and brick pavers? Day four was a creative one. Outdoor gardens are beautiful in themselves, but most gardeners feel as though their spaces can be enhanced with garden art. Our artsy team of Master Gardeners prepared the children by showing examples of mosaic pieces done by association members. In order to have a design plan, the youth were instructed in how to plan and draw a design to apply to their pavers.
The ideas were flowing when the children went to select their colors in all different types of polished rocks, smooth glass, and other eye-catching materials. What followed was amazing. Each artist came up with unique designs, shapes and forms; color patterns both traditional and experimental. All were worthy of a blue ribbon. The children participating were Sarah Burris, Gracy Gilleland, Miranda Miller, Kimber Myers, Hailey Overcash, Meredith Stanley, Michael Stanley, Cole Beech and Amber Talbert. Michael and Cole entered their pavers in the Rowan County Fair, and each won ribbons.
Our fifth and final day was an exciting wrapup to a terrific week. Titled “Exploring the Fields รณ Itchy, Biting, Stinging Things” parents and youth alike were invited to the Extension Office for presentations by Darrell Blackwelder and David Jones, naturalist with Rowan County Parks and Recreation. The topics ranged from poison ivy and sumac, to fire ants, to hornets, wasps and honey bees, mosquitoes, snakes, bats, birds, butterflies, spiders; anything that could possibly fall under the above heading. A lot of myths were shattered by these two experts, and a great deal of fun was had by the sharing of “Fun Facts about Bugs”.
Everyone was invited to the West End Demonstration gardens on Brenner Avenue for a walk in the park. A scavenger hunt of sorts took place, with kids finding insects and having them identified by the naturalist. It was a wonderful learning experience for all. Most of the action took place in the butterfly garden, which has not only host plants, but plants that attract butterflies to the garden. Most kids could be found with their noses close to a bloom of a flower, searching for an insect or butterfly larva for show and tell. The budding naturalists included Erin Christner, Zachary Foutz, Jalee Rollins, Michael, Stanley, Heather Stebe, Amber Talbert, Preston Turner Candis Newton and Cole Beech.
This week of 4-H Summer Fun is one that the Master Gardeners prepare for all year long. The 100-year celebration of 4-H in North Carolina reflects on the collaboration of youth and adult volunteers that have made the program successful then and now. We’re all looking forward to Summer 2010!
Carole Massey is a Rowan County 4-H and Master Gardener volunteer.