Bexar County Youth Gardens program introduces urban kids to gardening, nature

AgriLife Extension program provides variety of seasonal, year-long youth activities

SAN ANTONIO – While many youth activities have slowed down with the end of summer and in anticipation of the holidays, this fall the Bexar County Youth Gardens program of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has continued to provide fun and educational activities.

“Throughout the year, we try to give kids in and around Bexar County the opportunity to participate in activities to educate them about nutrition, food and fiber production, and natural resource conservation, while promoting community involvement,” said Ruby Zavala, AgriLife Extension youth gardens program coordinator, Bexar County. “And this fall has been a particularly busy time, between presenting our own programs and collaborating with others to provide seasonal and year-round youth education opportunities.”   

Zavala said two of the recent events in which the Youth Gardens program provided educational youth activities took place on Oct. 18 – the 10th annual Hoot and Harvest Festival and Herb Market Fest.

The Hoot and Harvest Festival was presented by the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center and provided family activities including hayrides, arts and crafts for kids, pumpkin decorating, a native plant sale and birds of prey demonstrations.

Children enjoyed the pollinator activity at the Hoot and Harvest Festival at the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Children enjoyed the pollinator activity at the Hoot and Harvest Festival at the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center. According to the center’s volunteer director, more than 1,00o youth came to the event to see the lake and learn more about nature and wildlife. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“We had about 1,700 people come through for the Hoot and Harvest Festival and more than half were kids,” said Alex Antram, volunteer coordinator for the center.

At the festival, Bexar County Youth Gardens and Bexar County Master Gardeners, a volunteer horticulture association of AgriLife Extension, presented a pollinators activity for youth.

“The kids did coloring book activities and learned about different pollinating insects and animals, like bees, birds and bats, and what they do for plants and humans in the ecosystem,” Zavala said.

The same day at the Pearl Brewery, youth gardens educators partnered with the San Antonio Herb Market Association for their annual Herb Market Fest event.

At the Herb Market Fest, kids got the opportunity to choose and learn how to post and care for their own herb plant. (Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Herb Market Association)

At the Herb Market Fest kids got the opportunity to choose their own herb plant, plus learn how to pot and care for it. (Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Herb Market Association)

“There we had an ‘Ask a Master Gardener’ booth and an herb- potting activity for the kids where they could choose an herb plant, then get instruction and get hands-on experience on how to plant it and take care of it at home,” Zavala said.

“More than 200 young people came to the display,” said Marilyn Magaro, who volunteers to help both the San Antonio Herb Market Association and Bexar County Youth Gardens.

“The kids get excited about choosing their own herb plant and learning how to pot it and water it, Magaro said. “They also like the ‘sensory’ part where they get to smell the herbs before choosing one of them.”

On Oct. 25, Bexar County Youth Gardens brought its youth education efforts to the annual BOOtanica! Halloween-themed event at the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

An educational program on fall vegetables was one of several youth activities presented by Bexar County Youth Gardens and the Bexar County Master Gardeners at the recent Bootanica! event held on the grounds of the San Antonio Botanical Garden. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

An educational program on fall vegetables was one of several youth activities presented by Bexar County Youth Gardens and the Bexar County Master Gardener association at the recent BOOtanica! event held on the grounds of the San Antonio Botanical Garden. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“More than 1,000 children attended BOOtanica! this year and participated in the activities AgriLife Extension provided,” said Sasha Kodet, director of education at San Antonio Botanical Garden. “The kids especially enjoyed the activities  where they could make their own terrarium necklace and get to know more about fall vegetables. The AgriLife Extension people also had a trick-or-treat activity in our WaterSaver Lane area so the kids could learn about conserving natural resources.”

Another ongoing program with the San Antonio Botanical Garden is the Children’s Vegetable Garden, Zavala said.

“The garden is located on the botanical garden grounds. Each spring and fall, AgriLife Extension and the SABG present this program, which is open to children 8-13 years of age from Bexar and surrounding counties. Currently 42 area children are currently participating in the fall program.”

During the program, children receive their own garden plot in which they prepare soil, plant, weed, nurture, grow and harvest their own vegetables under adult guidance, she said.

Participants in the fall Children's Vegetable Garden program show the cucumbers  they grew and harvested. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Fall Children’s Vegetable Garden program participants hug  cucumbers they grew and harvested. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“The Children’s Vegetable Garden program shows kids how to grow and harvest their own vegetables, while also teaching them about nutrition, beneficial insects, the environment and the health benefits of outdoor interests. Kids also attend a Junior Master Gardener class that coincides with the activities they participated in at the garden that day.”

Zavala said Bexar County Youth Gardens also provides seasonal Youth Garden Educator trainings as well as year-round Classroom Garden programs and special events to show teachers how to build and use gardening as means for youth education.

The garden area at Wilshire Elementary in San Antonio is one of hundreds of Classroom Gardens projects in which Bexar County Youth Gardens participates. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

The garden at Wilshire Elementary in San Antonio is one of nearly a hundred Classroom Garden projects in which Bexar County Youth Gardens participates countywide.
(Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“The adult training focuses on the Junior Master Gardener curriculum, with activities correlated to mandatory state standards in math, science, language arts and social studies. About 125 educators attend each training and all Classroom Garden leaders who attend are supplied with seeds, plant material, gardening supplies, fertilizers and books from the JMG curriculum.”

Over the years, we’ve had thousands of kids go through our outdoor gardening classroom,” said Donna Kadilis, a special education teacher at Wilshire Elementary School in the North East Independent School District. “We’ve grown pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, cabbage, potatoes and more. The kids love to watching their little plants and seedlings grow and have immense joy and pride in a job well done. Gardening has taught them about different kinds of vegetables, weather patterns, the water cycle and nature.”

Wilshire has received a Texas Certified Backyard Habitats designation for non-game and urban wildlife from a joint initiative of the National Wildlife Federation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

In 2013, the Classroom Gardens Program worked with 174 teachers representing 97 schools throughout Bexar County, which provide gardening instruction to over 10,000 students.

Zavala said Bexar County Youth Gardens staff and volunteers also participate in the annual Kids, Kows and More youth agriculture literacy program typically held in November on the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo grounds. They also reach out to thousands of attendees during the 18-day stock show and rodeo, providing fun and educational hands-on activities for children.

“These programs and activities make a real difference in how young people view nature, understand where their food comes from, and learn the importance of preserving our natural resources and being involved in their community,” she said.

For more information, contact Zavala at 210-467-6575 or Ruby.Zavala@ag.tamu.edu.

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