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Extension is expanding its online education and resources while in-person events and classes are canceled.

4-H Gardens to Go project rallies Detroit Lakes community

Ryland, a 7-year-old boy, holds a potted tomato seedling in a parking lot
Rylan Sweeney, 7, is a Boys & Girls Club of Detroit Lakes member having his first 4-H experience through the Gardens to Go project.

Boys & Girls Club and other local groups pull together with U of M Extension for summer connections in Becker County

Rylan Sweeney, age 7 “and a half,” knows what he likes best about summer in his hometown of Detroit Lakes, Minn.

“The ice cream truck,” he says without hesitation.

He knows what’s good, and that’s why he eats his veggies too, especially green beans. 

This year, he’ll grow them in a cedarwood box crafted by Leigh Nelson-Edwards, a University of Minnesota Extension 4-H youth educator, and her husband, an employee at LumBros Building Solutions, which pitched in with the wood.

As the demand grew for the 4-H “Gardens to Go,” 4-H'ers from across Becker County took over the box-building work.

4-H girl builds a cedar box
Abbey Sellgren, age 16, Height of Land 69’ers 4-H Club member in Becker County, builds a Gardens to Go box.

Unstoppable, with help for health

Nelson-Edwards, who grew up in Crookston, says the gardening project in 4-H is going into its fourth summer, and there was no way the COVID-19 pandemic was going to stop it. It just had to be done differently this year.

Although she isn’t much of a gardener herself, she is into well-being. In fact, she got talking with one farmer about contributing seedlings to 4-H at her yoga class last year.

“We teach the horticultural science skills they need, but it’s also about physical and emotional health,” she says. 

Wellness was a good topic for Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) and the Northwest RSDP board approved starter funding of $500 in its Rapid Response program in spring 2020.

Part of wellness is learning to prepare healthy snacks and meals, so Nelson-Edwards frequently calls in her Extension colleague, Donna Anderson, SNAP-Ed educator.

cardboard boxes of strawberries from Amor Organics
Manna Food Co-op donated ingredients for a SNAP-Ed nutrition lesson and recipe Donna Anderson provided to participants.

Anderson creates video lessons on preparing food from the garden produce, but also on topics like “Rethink your drink,” about reducing sugar. She includes health challenges and recipes in a newsletter that Nelson-Edwards sends to families.

One recipe included called for strawberries, bananas and yogurt, which not all families can go out and buy right now. Anderson called local donor Manna Food Co-op and they arranged a pick-up location for all ingredients.

4-H and Boys & Girls Club join forces

three adults wait for youth to pick up Gardens to Go containers in front of the Boys & Girls Club
Left to right: Pat Petermann, Boys & Girls Club executive director; Leigh Nelson-Edwards, 4-H youth development educator; and Tami Skinner Boys & Girls Club program coordinator

Rylan, despite his love of all things green, has never been in a 4-H club. Like many youth who received 4-H Gardens to Go and accompanying lessons, he is a regular at Boys & Girls Club of Detroit Lakes.

Extension 4-H, SNAP-Ed and the Boys & Girls Club have partnered for a few summers. “Kids would always ask if Leigh and Donna were coming back,” says Tami Skinner, program director with Boys & Girls Club. “We decided we could continue the gardening and nutrition lessons remotely this summer and Leigh secured the funding and donations. We are so blessed to have this great partnership that continues to engage our youth, teach valuable life skills and bring families together with a fun project.”

“It’s been a blessing for me,” says Rylan’s mother, Tiffany Stevens. “Rylan missed the gardens we had before we moved into town from the country. He enjoys everything.”

Filling a need to connect during the pandemic

Hannah Bigger, age 9, is also looking forward to eating the produce she grows. Besides planting some of the seeds in the container, she planted the beans and her tomato plant in her family’s small raised garden at home.

Hannah holding a project showing a crafted letter H and a prize ribbon
Hannah Bigger, 9, a 4-H Cloverbud with one of her projects from 2019

“She likes doing her projects and has been in 4-H since kindergarten,” says her father, Brant Bigger. He notes that Hannah has been frustrated that activities have been canceled during the pandemic and she hasn’t been able to see her friends like normal.

“I don’t like it,” Hannah concurs.

“This gardening activity will give Hannah an opportunity to grow her own items in a structured manner with weekly check-ins and activities,” her father adds.

Collaborators and generous donors make it possible

Major partners and contributors include Extension 4-H youth development, Boys & Girls Club of Detroit Lakes, Extension Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed), Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, PartnerSHIP for Health, Detroit Lakes Breakfast Rotary, Becker Pet and Garden, Manna Food Co-op, and LumBros Building Solutions.

For more information, see media coverage in Detroit Lakes

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