Gardens Teach Life Skills to Youth in Concord

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Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteers in Cabarrus County Show Us How

Young men at the Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center in Concord, NC have been enjoying the ordinary, yet extraordinary, experience of growing their own food since 2013. Recently, Master Gardener volunteers in Cabarrus County were invited to help expand and diversify the Center’s horticulture program by building raised beds and providing gardening instruction.

student waters cabbages in raised bed

Students raise cabbages and other vegetables in the outdoor raised beds.

For many students at the Center, gardening is a completely new experience. Weekly visits from Master Gardener volunteers are ensuring that the students are part of the entire process: from constructing raised beds and preparing the soil; to planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting. Master Gardener volunteers also demonstrate how the vegetables can be prepared and combined to make delicious meals.

Traditional vegetable gardening is not the only facet of the program. Thanks to the Charlotte, NC-based non-profit organization, 100 Gardens, the Center already has an impressive aquaponics system, built in 2013. Aquaponics is an innovative farming method that combines raising edible freshwater fish and growing vegetables together, without soil, in a symbiotic environment. As part of their involvement, Master Gardener volunteers helped teach students to care for and maintain the aquaponics system, which included learning about the water cycle, native plants, and beneficial insects.

Produce from the garden is used in the facility’s kitchen and donated to local food pantries.

Master Gardener volunteer support of the horticulture program has increased production of site-grown vegetables for the Center’s kitchen, with surplus produce donated to local non-profit organizations. But the impact of this experience digs much deeper. Getting their hands in the soil and patiently caring for the plants all season long has improved their understanding of food production. Weekly time in the garden also teaches life skills such as patience, teamwork, and how to follow through on a project. One of the many rewards is the satisfaction of tasting just how good a home-grown tomato can be. It is also opening their eyes to potential job opportunities. Through it all, the students expressed their enjoyment of being outside and reported feeling calmer and healthier….something all gardeners can relate to.

To recognize their meaningful work, the Extension Master Gardener℠ program in Cabarrus County received NC State Extension’s 2019 Search for Excellence Award. This award recognizes outstanding educational, Master Gardener volunteer-led group projects that result in significant learning. 

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Congratulations to Master Gardener volunteer project leaders Karen Andre, Dorothy Anthony, Denise Christiana, Renee Hedrick, Dawn Mulligan, and Marianne Scully. Thanks to their commitment, students are experiencing pride in their work and are inspired to keep gardening gaining skills they will use throughout their lives. We applaud their efforts to make an impact on the lives of young men in their community.

To learn more about the Extension Master Gardener program in Cabarrus County, contact Lauren Duncan Hill, Horticulture Extension Agent, Cabarrus County 704-920-3310 or visit N.C. Cooperative Extension, Cabarrus County center online.

To learn more about therapeutic horticulture, visit our portal.

ABOUT Extension Master Gardener Volunteers

Master Gardener volunteers support the mission of North Carolina Cooperative Extension by educating residents about safe, effective and sustainable gardening practices that grow healthy people, gardens, landscapes, and communities. Their vision is a healthier world through environmental stewardship. 

The Extension Master Gardener program operates in 84 of N.C. Cooperative Extension’s 101 local centers. To learn more about the Extension Master Gardener program in your community, contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension Center