Honor presented for Junior Master Gardener program efforts in Central America
SAN ANTONIO — The Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, part of the Texas A&M University System, has been presented the Program Partner of the Year Award by the Junior Master Gardener program for its work in Central America.
The award was presented during the recent 2012 Texas Master Gardener conference in San Antonio, which was attended by more than 700 Master Gardeners from throughout the state. Borlaug Institute staff members who were present to receive the award included Johanna Roman, Yanet Rodriguez, Dana Lewis and Dale Rodgers. Also present was Norma Santos, a Bexar County Master Gardener who previously served as a facilitator for Junior Master Gardener training activities in Guatemala.
“We give this award annually at the Master Gardener conference and this was the 12th year it has been presented,” said Karin Wallace, Texas AgriLife Extension Service assistant with the Junior Master Gardener Program in College Station. “What made the Borlaug Institute nomination stand out for this year’s award were the number of kids and adults it reached, as well as its international scope.”
Lisa Whittlesey, AgriLife Extension program specialist and national Junior Master Gardener program coordinator in College Station, said the Borlaug Institute has been a strategic partner in helping bring the Junior Master Gardener into its international projects.
“The Borlaug Institute’s international expertise, staff and project partners have been instrumental in exporting the program to Central America and making it sustainable,” Whittlesey said. “They have also been instrumental in looking for opportunities for exporting the Junior Master Gardener program to other countries through their ongoing and upcoming international project work.”
According to Johanna Roman, the institute’s coordinator for Latin American programs, the Borlaug Institute has been teaching Junior Master Gardener Program curricula and activities in Central America since 2007 and continues to expand the program through its current project activities.
“We love to ignite in kids a passion to learn to grow their own food and understand the importance of eating healthy fruits and vegetables through the JMG program,” Roman said. “We have been pleased with the success of the program. The number of children and teachers who have participated in our JMG programs in rural communities of Central America have exceeded our expectations.”
Roman said the first Junior Master Gardener training was delivered at an orphanage in Honduras with funding from the Borlaug Institute and a group of former Texas A&M students. Additionally, hundreds of Junior Master Gardener programs have been delivered in Guatemala with funding from the Borlaug Institute, the Texas A&M University horticulture department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Borlaug Institute project personnel in Central America have promoted JMG programs to help youth in impoverished communities,” she said. “As a result, numerous Mayan youth have learned about the horticultural sciences, nutrition and leadership through our use of JMG curricula and activity guides that were translated into Spanish for this purpose.”
Roman said the institute also organized student trips and trained Texas A&M and College Station-area high school students who then traveled to Guatemala to present Junior Master Gardener activities. She added that Dale Rodgers, a former Texas A&M student, has been leading dozens of Junior Master Gardener training sessions in Guatemala through train-the-trainer programs for rural school teachers and adult volunteers from international humanitarian organizations, including the Peace Corps.
Project records show the Borlaug Institute has now trained more than 300 adults and 20 Texas A&M students through its train-the-trainer workshops. Additionally, more than 3,000 children in Central America currently have participated in Junior Master Gardener programs and activities offered through the institute’s projects.
“Junior Master Gardener program activities allowed the young people participating to expand their horticultural and general scientific knowledge, plus acquire leadership and teamwork skills and develop a greater respect for the environment,” said Yanet Rodriguez, who served as an in-country training coordinator for the USDA-funded Food for Progress project led by the Borlaug Institute in Guatemala.
“One of the greatest benefits of the JMG program was that it helped the parents as well as the kids since the parents were more open to learning new things from their children,” Rodriguez said. “The kids learned about horticulture and science and then shared what they had learned with their parents.”
Rodriguez said Junior Master Gardener activities not only taught the children how to grow their own food, it also taught them how to improve their health by eating more fruits and vegetables, and having a balanced diet.
“Of course, they shared this important nutrition information with their parents too,” she said.
Rodriguez said receiving the Program Partner of the Year Award from the Junior Master Gardener organization was “fantastic” and she was glad the Borlaug Institute had been recognized for the effort and extent of its youth horticulture education outreach in Central America.
“The success and reputation of these Junior Master Gardener efforts has spread, and we’ve recently been asked to look into the possibility of bringing the program to El Salvador,” she said.
Roman said so far more than 30 Junior Master Gardener clubs have been formed in rural communities of Central America.
“These clubs help engage at-risk kids in productive activities, help kids learn useful life skills and inspire them to give back by establishing community and school gardens,” Roman said. “We feel our efforts in Central America using the Junior Master Gardener program have found fertile ground for helping grow good kids in that part of the world. It is our desire to continue promoting the Junior Master Gardener program in Latin America for many years to come, and we appreciate this special recognition by the Junior Master Gardener organization.”
For more information on the Borlaug Institute, go to http://borlaug.tamu.edu