Okra, tomatoes, squash and eggplants — staples of the southern summer garden and all currently being grown by enthusiastic young gardeners at the Boys & Girls Club of Baldwin County, located at 1140 W. Charlton St.
This year’s garden is the result of the local community, Georgia College, and nonprofit groups coming together to create an outdoor botany classroom to teach children where their food comes from firsthand. With the help of the Milledgeville Garden Club, Lockerly Arboretum, Georgia College Office of Sustainability, and the Georgia College Gardening Club, containers were filled in the springtime with vegetables, fruits, and flowers and positioned on the BGC front lawn for easy access.
“We do appreciate all the local partners that have brought nature to life for our children,” said Pamela Peek, local Boys & Girls Club director. “By actively taking care of the plants, the children learn to appreciate nature and know where healthy food comes from and how hard it is to grow.”
Peek said she hopes to have the garden produce enough food for the kids to cook a nutritious meal and to take some home for their families.
A couple of raised beds situated to the back of the garden contain squash plants that need more room than a container to stretch their tendrils.
Local student Javonte Smith is especially looking forward to trying his hand at cooking the yellow straight necks.
“I love squash casserole and can’t wait until they are ready to pick and eat,” he said with a grin. “I have helped from the beginning with watering, weeding, and taking care of the plants, and I really enjoy it.”
April kicked off this year’s growing season, and Dr. Harriet Whipple, a member of the Boys & Girls Club board of directors and education chair for the Milledgeville Garden Club, took the lead in securing volunteers, containers, soil, plants, worm and volunteers for the project.
“The garden club has worked with the Boys & Girls Club for many years in learning how to garden and take care of the needs of plants and trees,” said Whipple. “This year, it was wonderful to have the Georgia College Office of Sustainability and the student gardening club come out to help in establishing this season’s plantings. Lockerly Arboretum has also donated many plants over the years for this project, too.”
Bees buzz around the garden, landing on the tall sunflowers that all the children think are beautiful with their varying heights and hues of red and yellow. A few pests can also be located on the tomatoes providing a teaching moment for the children to recognize friend or foe.
Smith, along with two older children — Jquan Morris and Omare Lester — serve as garden leaders and teach the younger students plant identification and how to weed and water. They eagerly give tours and updates to groups and check to see if any of the bounties need harvesting.
“I like to make sure the plants stay watered,” said Lester. “I feel like that is an important job, and I enjoy keeping on top of it, so the plants survive.”
Morris said he enjoys checking the tomatoes for ripeness and wants to take a few to his family to enjoy. He said he would love to start a garden at home and grow his own fruit and vegetables one day.
Sharon Johnson, the Boys & Girls Club youth development professional, said she is pleased to see how much the older children have taken responsibility for the garden and its well-being and notes how it strengthens their character to nurture the plants throughout the hot summer.
This year marks the first time the Georgia College Office of Sustainability (GCOS), along with their gardening intern and president of the GC Garden Club, Toria Middleton, has contributed to the garden project.
“The Georgia College students gain from helping the younger generation to learn how to garden,” said Lori Strawder, GCOS chief operating officer. “It is so important to teach others how they can help themselves through raising their own food and help the environment in ways like conserving water. It’s vital to pass this knowledge on to our children.”
According to Sylvia Moore, former Milledgeville Garden Club president, the club has been a constant supporter of the Boys & Girls Club not only through the donation of plants for the vegetable garden but also through annual conservation and beautification efforts including planting a gingko tree for this year’s Arbor Day on the facility grounds. She believes it is essential to bestow gardening knowledge to children, and without volunteers, that is an impossible task.
“I need to thank Harriet Whipple for the decades of dedication she has shown to both clubs,” said Moore. “I would also like to thank chairwoman Linda Hodges for presenting the BGC with the prestigious MGC Garden of the Month award for April 2019. They have truly earned the award with all the hard work put into their garden.”