4-H in 2-D: Minnesota hands-on learning program goes online
DULUTH — Sarah Winter was on the hunt for distancing-friendly activities for her children this summer. “We’re pretty quarantined,” she said. Winter spotted 4-H Healthy Sprouts, a free gardening class through the University of Minnesota Extension.
Her daughter, Aedea, 12, is now in charge of the Hermantown, Minn., family’s pumpkins, zucchini, squash, cucumbers and rhubarb.
“Going from not planting for two years to having an amazing garden, I know all the answers to all the weird things that might happen to my plants. It was really fun,” Aedea said.
“Not only is the two hours something for her to do, but it developed, maybe, a passion for gardening in her,” Winter said.
Traditionally, 4-H focuses on a special project area, but the pandemic has made for adjustments. In response to that, the U of M extension office looked to alternatives.
Their virtual 4-H classes run the gamut, from wood shop to sculpture to “Let’s Talk About Race.” Many are for grades K-13, and some are limited for younger students.
“We adapted to try to make everything still hands-on,” said Kate Preiner, extension educator. Preiner helped develop the virtual 4-H based classes in northwestern Minnesota.
They follow safety guidelines: They keep the ratio of one adult to 10 youth per call. They screen the adults at the start of every session, and ask anyone new to the program to turn on their video.
Preiner is working with educators in Itasca, Beltrami and Mille Lacs counties; each county has its own offerings, and they plan to offer virtual programming into the school year.
One surprising benefit to the online setting is it fosters a connection with everyone in their own space. “Youth are excited to show you their pets or other things that are in the room that have meaning to them. It’s cool to see things they care about,” Preiner said.
Preiner also oversees the Clover Kitchen cooking program.
The class focuses on two skills per session and one assigned task. On the menu so far: banana bread, stir fry, homemade granola, protein bars. Students share photos or prerecorded videos of their work.
Nicole Kudrle said it’s important for youth to stay connected to 4-H and one another, especially now.
Kudrle is a Virginia-based extension educator who leads the Healthy Sprouts class. She said it’s an opportunity for youths to learn how to grow their own food and make healthy snacks.
The extension office invited area professionals to speak about their related careers, such as a bug expert and a weed scientist.
For the future, the youth development team at the extension office is determining what the classes will look like. They anticipate Healthy Sprouts will continue through the fall, with shifts to food preservation, how to close down a garden for winter, etc., Kudrle said.
There’s a large increase of people growing their own food, and a lot of people wanting to know their food’s origin. “These kids are celebrating that fact … and getting those skills, so when they’re older, they can continue to garden,” Kudrle said.
Aedea said she likes the mix of ages in Healthy Sprouts because she gets to learn something from everybody. She also kept a garden journal, where she wrote about her harvest, weeds and ideas for the future. Next up: a possible greenhouse. And one thing she’ll do differently: “One pumpkin plant,” she said. “I didn’t realize how well it would grow. It took over my spot for winter squash.”
A large takeaway is a new appreciation for pickles, she said.
“We buy pickles all the time and eat them super, super fast. It took two weeks for me to grow little cucumbers and harvest them all and wait till I had enough to make two jars of pickles,” she said.
Winter said this helped her daughter embrace cooking and preparing vegetables in different ways. “It was a good opportunity for her to do something on her own, but it turned out to be much more,” she added.