Former San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger presents Junior Master Gardener certificates

Former San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger, third from left, and recipients of the Junior Master Gardener certificates and their family members. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)

JMG certification considered ‘Eagle Scout’ achievement in youth gardening

Former San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger recently presented Junior Master Gardener certificates to three young home-schoolers involved in a youth gardening program at Phil Hardberger Park in northwest San Antonio.

The three youths were the first to receive certification for participation in the Phil Hardberger Park Children’s Vegetable Garden, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Bexar County Master Gardener-led youth gardening program in collaboration with the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy.

“Achieving JMG certification is ‘the Eagle Scout’ equivalent for youth gardening,” said Carol White, a 12-year Bexar County Master Gardener. “These three students have completed over 100 assignments addressing various aspects of gardening.”

Hardberger presented certificates to Arwen Bailey, Joshua Brooks and Hannah Smith on the vegetable garden grounds. Those also attending the presentation included about 35 youth currently involved in the vegetable garden program, their parents or caregivers, employees of AgriLife Extension and the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy, and volunteers from the Bexar County Master Gardeners association.

“It’s great to see these kids involved in gardening and learning about nature,” Hardberger said. “While learning is important, there’s nothing like kids getting this kind of hands-on learning experience in the outdoors.”

White explained the JMG program is a 4-H-based program that helps young people learn about gardening and different aspects of nature.

Bexar County Master Gardeners working with youth participants at the Phil Hardberger Park Children’s Vegetable Garden. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)

“Youths of elementary and middle school age participate in learning about planting vegetables, herbs and other plants and how to maintain and harvest them. They also learn additional lessons about nature and the environment.”

White said the program at Phil Hardberger Park is unique because it reaches the home-school population in Bexar County and is located at a Texas historic site, the Voelcker Homestead, which has been identified as the last dairy farm in Bexar County.

White said the three youths receiving JMG certification went “above and beyond” in completing their required assignments.

She said in addition to learning about planting and plant maintenance, the young gardeners participated in lessons related to soil, water, ecology, insects, landscape horticulture, fruits and nuts, vegetables and herbs, nutrition and plants as food and medicine.

Kathy Breniman, a three-year Bexar County Master Gardener and one of the coordinators of the PHP Children’s Vegetable Garden program, said youth participants are excited to learn how to grow and harvest their own vegetables.

“They also learn important life lessons such as personal responsibility, dealing with adversity and cooperating with others toward a common goal,” she said. “And since these are home-schoolers, it also gives them an opportunity to meet other kids and make friends their own age.”

Upon receiving their certification, the three young gardeners were asked to tell attendees about one of their favorite lessons from the program.

“My favorite thing was learning about Arbor Day,” Bailey said. “I didn’t know how important it was and that it was a national day for trees.”

Brooks said his favorite lesson was learning about beneficial and non-beneficial garden insects and their role in the environment.

“I enjoyed learning about working in a greenhouse and planting stem and root cuttings to see how they would grow,” Smith said.

Hardberger with the five Campbell children currently participating in the PHP Children’s Vegetable Garden program. (Photo courtesy Teresa Shumaker)

One of the parents attending, Chyrece Campbell, has five children currently involved in the youth gardening program at Hardberger Park.

“We have been involved in home gardening for the past few years, and this program has been a great educational experience for my kids,” she said. “I look forward to what they learn here in the youth garden so they can bring that information home and share it with my husband and me.”

Denise Gross, executive director of the Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy, said the youth gardening program corresponds with the conservancy’s mission of teaching young people about the importance of nature and developing a respect for the environment.

“We currently have nine new students associated with the PHP Children’s Vegetable Garden wanting to work on their JMG certification,” White said. “I and other Master Gardeners will work with them individually each Tuesday toward obtaining their certificate. It typically takes about 18 months to complete the assignments needed for certification.”

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