Engage Youth in Agriculture this Earth Day

POST AND PHOTOS BY MAGGIE ANDRESEN // PUBLISHED APRIL 2018

At Gardens for Health International, we strongly believe that positive stewardship of the environment is the key to sustainable agriculture. This Earth Day, we want to highlight the importance of encouraging youth to develop early relationships with nature and agriculture.

  Rachel helps harvest peanuts during GHI Umuganda on January 6, 2018.

Rachel helps harvest peanuts during GHI Umuganda on January 6, 2018.

Early interaction with nature promotes a lifelong care for the wellbeing of the environment, and increases the propensity for children to become advocates for the natural world later in life. At GHI, a key tenant of our on-farm Early Childhood Development Program is engagement with the our five acres of land. Weekly lessons run by our Agriculture and Community Outreach Fellow focus on themes of environmental science, covering topics such as seed germination and water absorption by plant stalks.

  Celette, our ECD teacher, shows Ange, ECD participant, how water travels through a celery stalk on February 16, 2018.

Celette, our ECD teacher, shows Ange, ECD participant, how water travels through a celery stalk on February 16, 2018.

Our ECD participants plant and maintain a number of vegetable beds when we replant our farm each season, and they take pride in caring for the plants they later harvest. This teaches patience, care for living things, and follow-through on personal projects - skills that seamlessly translate to the classroom and beyond.

  Jessie, our Agriculture and Community Engagement fellow, gives Paul, ECD participant, some carrot seeds to plant on October 17, 2017.

Jessie, our Agriculture and Community Engagement fellow, gives Paul, ECD participant, some carrot seeds to plant on October 17, 2017.

Each month, GHI engages in one farm day where our team is encouraged to work together on a farm project, and one day of on-farm Umuganda service. Both of these days of service to our farm include opportunities for our ECD participants to interact with our farm in diverse ways. They’ve helped to seed plots, weed beds, and harvest produce - allowing them to observe the growth process of vegetables through the season.

GHI is a contributor to the World Food Programme’s Home Garden School Feeding Initiative (HGSF), which helps to increase the dietary diversity of school lunches by planting vegetable gardens and training teachers at 104 primary schools in Rwanda’s Southern and Western Provinces. Children from each school are asked to participate in the maintenance of these school gardens, to encourage ownership and engage in new learning opportunities.

  Irafasha Angelique, a student at GS Rwamiko school, in front of the school garden plots she helps maintain, March 30, 2018.

Irafasha Angelique, a student at GS Rwamiko school, in front of the school garden plots she helps maintain, March 30, 2018.

Irafasha Angelique, a 12-year-old student attending GS Rwamiko school in Manihira Sector, helps water her school garden five times a week. She takes pride in the role she fills caring for the new vegetables, where she says only maize and potatoes grew before GHI’s trainings.

“The teachers started teaching us how to prepare the gardens, and I am confident that I can tell my parents about it since it is very nutritional,” Angelique says excitedly. She explains she has taken her lessons in gardening back home to her parents, especially in the importance of dietary diversity.

“We have the vegetables as learning tools to help us learn well,” Angelique says. “I learned that I can tell my parents to prepare small gardens, and can advise any parent who comes to us to ask for vegetables and feed their children nutritious food.”

  Garden plots at GS Rwamiko school, covered in branches and leaves to prevent condensation from forming ice on the vegetable beds overnight, March 30, 2018.

Garden plots at GS Rwamiko school, covered in branches and leaves to prevent condensation from forming ice on the vegetable beds overnight, March 30, 2018.

Angelique mentions that carrots are her favorite vegetable, and that she is considering a future in farming. “I would be able to do it excellently when I grow up,” she says in regard to growing vegetables. “I plan to teach everyone who does not know about growing vegetables, and show them how to do it.”

Children who love the earth will want to protect it as adults. When kids have an opportunity to regularly engage in hands-on learning, the planet becomes the world’s best classroom. We advocate for kids to get outside as much as possible, and let nature be their inspiration to become advocates for the environment.

Happy Earth Day, and get outdoors!