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Linda Geist
  • Students at George Washington Carver School in Kansas City had the opportunity to learn about tree planting when MU Extension Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists teamed up with the Department of Conservation to plant more fruit trees in the schoolyard garden. Photo by Brandon Parigo, UMKC.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – University of Missouri Extension Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City and Master Naturalists use gardening to teach students to grow healthy food and dream big.

The Extension Master Gardener group, called Urban Green Dreams, works with Kansas City youths using Eating From the Garden, a research-based MU Extension program for fourth and fifth grade students.

Working with students in schoolyard gardens in Kansas City for the past decade, the volunteers talk about how healthy eating and healthy lifestyles improve lives, says MU Extension horticulturist Tamra Reall.

Forty-two fruit trees and eight raised garden beds fill the schoolyard at George Washington Carver Dual Language School, where students learn in Spanish and English. Eighty percent of the students are Hispanic and 16% are Black. The school also sits in one of urban Kansas City’s high poverty areas, with 99% of the student population living in low-income households.

Carver principal Andrew Murphy says the program exposes students to new foods through the school’s gardens and orchard. For many of them, it’s the first time they have worked in a garden or picked fruit from a tree.

“I’ll never forget the first year that our pear tree produced fruit,” says Murphy. “One student asked after receiving it, ‘Where’s the juice that comes with it in the cup?’ This innocent question from a student showed to me the importance of keeping this program going at our school. Students need to understand the importance of real fruits and veggies – not ones from a can or a cup!”

Gardening also serves to plant seeds of hope and aspirations. Extension Master Gardeners use moments in the gardens and orchard to share their own stories to show how education shaped their lives.

Fresh fruits and vegetables grown by students supplement school lunches and often serve as snacks. Master Gardeners encourage students to take excess produce home to share with family members. This allows students to open conversations about gardening and nutrition.

Barbara “Doc” Johnson spends hours each week working with students, teaching them how to grow fruits and vegetables.

“When they don’t eat well, they don’t think well,” she says. “Doc,” as fellow Master Gardeners call her, hopes to serve as a role model for students. She sometimes shares her own journey to receive her doctoral degree at age 62. As one of 14 children of a southern plantation worker, she knows what poverty looks like in the eyes of children.  Her family’s strong connection to agriculture and food traditions always meant food on the table, and food to share with those in need.

Food insecurity can create a variety of challenges for families and children. Research show that food-insecure children are more likely to repeat a grade level, experience developmental challenges and have more social and behavioral problems.

“Learning about growing food and being healthy is crucial,” Reall says. “It instills valuable life skills, promotes a deeper understanding of nutrition and encourages a lifelong commitment to a healthier lifestyle.”

Toni Gatlin, another Extension Master Gardener and Dreams team coordinator, shares how healthy food influences overall well-being. Gatlin’s lifelong work has been to promote healthy eating habits to prevent disease. She holds a master’s degree and is one of the original 10 members of Kansas City Black Urban Growers (KCBUGS), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Black agrarianism and advocating for an equitable Kansas City food system.

Master Gardener Merlyne Starr, who holds a doctorate, teaches children about the versatility and value of each part of fruits and vegetables. There are lessons with each plucking of a cherry tomato from the vine or thumping of a melon to test for ripeness.

Phil Ramsey is a recently retired military veteran and graduate of the Extension Master Gardener program. His personal garden supplies most of his food, and he wants to share with the children how important is it to know where food comes from and to be self-sufficient. “These are the future farmers and gardeners for our communities,” he says.

These tireless volunteers and others make the rounds of other schoolyard gardens in Kansas City. They also work with two early child care centers and a family child care home.

Learn more about the MU Extension Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City at www.mggkc.org.

Photos

https://extension.missouri.edu/sites/default/files/legacy_media/wysiwyg/News/photos/20240222-kcmg-3034.jpg

Extension Master Gardener Merlyne Starr recently harvested apples for students from the schoolyard garden at George Washington Carver Dual Language School in Kansas City. There are 42 fruit trees at school. Photo by Linda Geist.

https://extension.missouri.edu/sites/default/files/legacy_media/wysiwyg/News/photos/20240222-kcmg-12159.jpg

Master Gardener Barbara “Doc” Johnson, now 78, received her doctorate in education, urban leadership and policy studies in education from UMKC at age 62. She uses her education and skills as part of Extension Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists and Urban Green Dreams to teach students the value of education and growing their own food. Photo by Brandon Parigo, UMKC.

https://extension.missouri.edu/sites/default/files/legacy_media/wysiwyg/News/photos/20240222-kcmg-12292.jpg

Phil Ramsey, a retired veteran and graduate of the Extension Master Gardener program, recently helped students at George Washington Carver Dual Language School plant fruit trees in the schoolyard garden. Photo by Brandon Parigo, UMKC.

https://extension.missouri.edu/sites/default/files/legacy_media/wysiwyg/News/photos/20240222-kcmg-12333.jpg

The MU Extension Master Gardeners Urban Green Dreams team, Missouri Department of Conservation, and Master Naturalists teamed up to plant trees at the George Washington Carver School. The schoolyard garden contains 42 fruit trees and eight raised garden beds. Photo by Brandon Parigo, UMKC.

https://extension.missouri.edu/sites/default/files/legacy_media/wysiwyg/News/photos/20240222-kcmg-12363.jpg

MU Extension Master Gardener Urban Green Dreams team members Barbara Johnson, Phil Ramsey and Toni Gatlin teach young people the value of education and growing and eating fresh food. Photo by Brandon Parigo, UMKC.

https://extension.missouri.edu/sites/default/files/legacy_media/wysiwyg/News/photos/20240222-kcmg-12278.jpg

Students at George Washington Carver School in Kansas City had the opportunity to learn about tree planting when MU Extension Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists teamed up with the Department of Conservation to plant more fruit trees in the schoolyard garden. Photo by Brandon Parigo, UMKC.

https://extension.missouri.edu/sites/default/files/legacy_media/wysiwyg/News/photos/20240222-kcmg-12194.jpg

University of Missouri Extension horticulturist Tamra Reall, second from right, helped students put mulch around newly planted trees at George Washington Carver School in Kansas City. The schoolyard contains 48 fruit trees and eight raised garden beds that provide fresh fruits and vegetables for students. Photo by Brandon Parigo, UMKC.