With gas prices on the rise and the trip to the nearest large grocery store clocking in at 50 miles, Mark Platten realized an opportunity much closer to home. Platten, the Colorado State University Extension Director for Teller County, began brainstorming and came up with the idea for a program that would engage young people in gardening, put fresh food on the table, and facilitate community service opportunities in the town of Cripple Creek, Colorado - a small town situated in the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 9,500.
The community rallied behind the idea, and the partnerships necessary to make the Cripple Creek Junior Master Gardeners Program a reality began to fall into place. The Town of Cripple Creek offered an unused greenhouse as a venue. Platten was awarded a grant to purchase the Junior Master Gardening curriculum and gardening supplies, and the Teller County Office of Public Health donated additional materials. With folks from Pikes Peak Urban Gardens and the Colorado Master Gardeners of Teller County volunteering their expertise, all that the program needed was participants. A partnership with Cripple Creek Parks and Recreation sealed the deal and brought in youth to participate from their summer programs.
The more the kids participating in the Junior Master Gardner program learned about the life cycle of the vegetables they were growing, the more interested and enthusiastic they became about gardening. For the participants, seeing something grow from a seed, to a plant, to something they could pick and eat was incredible! In addition to cultivating plants, the program’s real goal is to cultivate knowledge about the process of growing fresh, nutritious foods in the kids. As the program has progressed over the past four years, the children who have been involved since the beginning have become mentors for the first-timers, helping share knowledge gained from their experiences. After their yearly harvest, the group hosts an event called “Soup for Community” where they serve a free nutritious meal to nearly one hundred participants each year.
By empowering youth in the community to learn more about gardening and growing healthy and nutritious food, the Cripple Creek Junior Master Gardener program is one answer to First Lady Michelle Obama’s call to help raise a healthier generation of kids. Developed by Texas AgriLife Extension Service, the Junior Master Gardener curriculum promotes a love of gardening and is available for all groups to order online.
Did You Know?
USDA’s People’s Garden Initiative has been partnering with Junior Master Gardeners on youth gardening trainings and programs since 2009 and together launched the first international People’s Garden in Korea.