Sunday | May 29, 2016
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Have fun in the dirt like a kid again

By Natalie Cross

University of Hawaii at Manoa Kona Cooperative Extension Service

Would you like to have fun in the dirt with your child, your grandchild, or even your great grandchild? Try gardening together! It’s a great way to discover the wonders of nature while growing yummy vegetables. Plus it’s a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time together while getting fit and growing nutritious food to eat.

Children love to watch things grow. They are amazed to see a big cabbage or a giant pumpkin grow from a small seed.

One place for families to garden together is the 4-H Junior Master Gardener program in Kainaliu, which serves our youth and their families in West Hawaii as part of the 4-H youth development organization. Families with kids in grades K-12 are welcome. The primary goal of the garden program is for young people and their families to practice healthy living and life skills through hands-on learning in the garden. Families have fun working in the garden, harvesting their bountiful crops, and eating a delicious potluck.

In East Hawaii, in collaboration with the Hilo Boys and Girls Club, families can try out their green thumbs at the 4-H Junior Master Gardener program in Hilo.

Through this seed to plate experience, participants plant, water, fertilize, weed, mulch, trim, and harvest a wide variety of vegetables including green beans, tomatoes, eggplant, beets, pak choi, taro, Swiss chard, kale, broccoli, squash, green onions, black beans, snap peas, daikon and cabbage. They also grow herbs such as parsley, chives, dill, basil, and rosemary. In the kitchen, the junior gardeners prepare vegetables, cook meals, and present the food in an appealing manner.

Garden participant Addi Lea, a 4-H member and fifth-grader at Holualoa Elementary School, says, “I like planting corn, carrots, peppers, and brussel sprouts. I also like planting lettuce seeds in pots and transplanting them into the soil. I learned how to harvest carrots so they do not break in the ground.”

Mother Lisa Lea adds, “I like that my children have an opportunity to be outside working in the dirt. My daughter is now eating more vegetables because she has grown and harvested them herself.” Parents are actively involved, demonstrating good garden practices and proper food preparation skills while encouraging good eating habits.

Families are encouraged to apply what they have learned outside of the garden. Many families have planted home gardens since participating in the program so that they can enjoy freshly grown produce year-round while saving money. They take pride in growing their own food and feel more connected to nature as a result.

Carmine Meyers, a 2nd grader at Konawaena Elementary, is enthusiastic about gardening. “I grew green beans and corn and I know how to grow stuff for salads. My green beans at Grandma’s house grew really big too because I learned what to do.” Younger brother Max Meyers, a kindergartner at Konawaena, shares, “I like growing many kinds of vegetables. No fruits yet, oh wait, I planted tomatoes! That’s a fruit you know.”

One innovative aspect of the program is that these future master gardeners are experimenting with the best varieties of vegetables for our particular climate, soil, rainfall, and food needs. They are growing fun and exotic crops such as yellow tomatoes, orange peppers, huge gourds, and giant pumpkins. Some seeds such as corn, tomatoes, lettuce, and eggplant were specifically developed by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources for Hawaii’s sub-tropical climate and soil.

Volunteers from the community are also welcome to help out. Garden volunteer Craig Platt states, “It’s incredibly rewarding to see all of the kids having fun and learning at the same time. It gives them great insight into healthy living that will have a positive impact on their lives.”

Environmental sustainability is a key concept guiding the garden. Participants learn how to apply organic gardening practices, water conservation, and recycling. Weeds are pulled by hand instead of using weed killer. The plot is located in an area that receives regular rainfall, so the garden is only watered as needed and is done conservatively. A large compost pile has been created with weeds and organic matter from the garden which is used to enrich the garden soil. Gardening materials such as starter pots and trellises are reused.

4-H is the largest youth development organization in the United States with several million members. Through hands-on activities and projects, youth ages 5-19 explore Healthy Living, Science, and Citizenship. The goal is to “Learn by Doing” while developing life and leadership skills. 4-H helps young people to reach their full potential as competent, confident leaders of character who contribute and are connected to their communities. Whether youth are caring for animals, planting vegetables, or doing beach clean-ups, 4-H gives young people the skills they need to thrive and succeed throughout their lives. Membership is free. Hawaii 4-H is supported in part by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. New members are always welcome.

The 4-H Junior Master Gardener program in Kainaliu meets monthly after school hours at the University of Hawaii Kona Cooperative Extension Service. For more information about 4-H and the garden program in West Hawaii, please contact Natalie Cross, Program Assistant, or Joan Chong, County Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development Program, by phone at 322-0166. By email at or

The 4-H Junior Master Gardener program in Hilo meets first and third Saturdays at the Kaiao Community Garden. For more information about 4-H and the garden program in East Hawaii, please contact Becky Settlage, County Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development and Livestock, at 969-8213 or


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