PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Through the Shiawassee Camper’s Sustainable Garden and Sustainable Agriculture Education Program, the Shiawassee Conservation District developed and facilitated a sustainable agriculture education program with YMCA Camp Shiawassee youth participants during the 2013-2014 seasons reaching 697 kids. The Conservation District put together weekly lessons using fun and interesting games, demonstrations, and crafts to portray messages of sustainable agriculture. To accompany the two, 10-week summer programs, the Conservation District installed vegetable gardens for the kids to plant, tend, and harvest using sustainable methods. The gardens were established as raised beds at the Camp Shiawassee facility and will continue to be planted year after year. The goals of this program were to educate youth participants about how food is grown, requirements necessary for producing crops in limited spaces, what it means to have a sustainable garden, and how healthy food can be grown to make healthy lifestyle choices.
Camp participants were between the ages of 5 and 12 with counselors-in-training ages 13 to 16. To reach this broad range of ages, the Conservation District used a variety of tools to make lessons simple to understand while also being able to challenge older participants. Weekly sessions were planned focusing on different aspects of sustainable agriculture, including conservation in agriculture, soils biology, soil erosion, water conservation, groundwater, watersheds, nonpoint source pollution, composting, Michigan-grown crops, pollination, and types of pollinators. A variety of educational tools were used to facilitate weekly sessions, including the National Association of Conservation District educational resources, Project Wild, Aquatic Wild, Project Wet, Growing Up Wild, and Project Learning Tree curriculum guides. Demonstrations and interactive models were also utilized including, the the EnVision Groundwater Flow Model Simulator, Enviroscape Watershed Model, and Soil Water Porosity Tubes. To conclude each season, the harvested vegetables were incorporated into a feast for all participants to enjoy knowing that they were responsible for growing the food they were eating and that year-after-year they will benefit from the bounty of their sustainable garden.
The Shiawassee Conservation District is committed to educating its residents about conservation issues. Organized in 1948, the Conservation District provides for the care, use and conservation of our County’s natural resources. The District continually analyzes the needs of the local communities to set local priorities, develop action plans to solve natural resource issues and assist urban and rural residents in the management of their lands for a cleaner and healthier Michigan.
The Conservation District’s Conservation Education program includes a variety of educational workshops, classroom presentations, and informational meetings throughout the year to children and adults of all ages. These events are held independently or in partnership with local businesses and organizations such as the Shiawassee Family YMCA and the Shiawassee County Farm Bureau. Additionally, the Shiawassee Conservation District sponsors an Agricultural Field Day/Tour each year. Landowners, farmers, and local and state officials are invited to the event that showcases conservation practices implemented in Shiawassee County and innovative projects the District is working on.
The goal of this project was to coordinate and deliver a Sustainable Education-themed education program to YMCA Camp Shiawassee youth participants and assist the Shiawassee Family YMCA in establishing raised garden beds at the YMCA Outdoor Center located on the Shiawassee River. Camp participants worked hands-on using conservation methods to plant, maintain, and harvest vegetable crops grown in raised garden beds. Throughout the growing season, campers were educated on various topics related to conservation and sustainable agriculture through fun educational activities facilitated by the Conservation District. The instructive and fun activities combined with the experience of growing healthy food presented a unique experience which taught kids about producing vital, healthy, and sustainable crops while protecting our natural resources.
YMCA Camp Shiawassee participants were between the ages of 5 and 12 with counselors-in-training ages 13 to 16. To reach this broad range of ages, the Conservation District utilized a variety of tools to interpret difficult concepts including the EnVision Groundwater Flow Model Simulator, Enviroscape Watershed Model, and Soil Water Porosity Tubes. Curriculum guides that were utilized to develop educational sessions included, Project Wild, Aquatic Wild, Project Wet, Growing Up Wild, and Project Learning Tree curriculum guides. The National Association of Conservation District educational resources were utilized as hands-on tools. In planning weekly sessions, the Conservation District analyzed concepts of sustainable agriculture and natural resource conservation to develop fun educational sessions. Weekly sessions included:
- Week 1 – sustainable agriculture concept; types of vegetables; planted gardens
- Week 2 – benefits of worms in topsoil and the different soil layers; adventure worm dig, made dirt cake
- Week 3 – differences between garden, agriculture, and forest-type soils; field study activity, made binoculars for observing the natural world
- Week 4 – how sustainable agriculture produces the 5 food groups; build-a-pizza 5 food group activity
- Week 5 – soil erosion, how soil loss impairs agriculture; erosion in a bottle, soil splash zone, Enviroscape® demonstrations
- Week 6 – how sustainable agriculture protects groundwater; groundwater flow model demonstration activity, made edible aquifers
- Week 7 – Michigan agriculture, crops grown in Michigan and sustainable methods of farming used in Michigan; made a map of Michigan crops
- Week 8 – local farmers from Carlin Centennial Farms visited with a selection of their animals to discuss raising livestock using sustainable techniques
- Week 9 –water conservation in agriculture and everyday uses; water distribution globe toss game, water use sponge game, water quality bracelets
- Week 10 – composting; built a compost barrel, scavenger hunt for compostable items; and prepared a stir fry lunch using crops raised by the campers in their gardens.
- Week 1 – planted gardens and created vegetable marking signs
- Week 2 – types of pollinators and how they help produce food; designed pollinator using coffee filter
- Week 3 – using your senses to observe the natural world and the crops we grow; scavenger hunt
- Week 4 – pollinator habits, generalists versus specific pollinators; designed pollinator by painting a stone
- Week 5 – Anthony Bee Farm presentation on the importance of bees as pollinators and how honey is produced
- Week 6 – water conservation in agriculture and everyday uses; water distribution globe toss game, water use sponge game, water quality bracelets
- Week 7 – sustainable agriculture in silviculture and forest production; played game to discover items that are produced from forestry products; created tree cookies
- Week 8 – camouflage and mimicry in our natural world, the role of pollinators in sustainable agriculture; played “Birds and Worms” game and designed a camouflage pollinator
- Week 9 – groundwater and influences from agriculture and everyday use; made veggie pizzas using crops from the Camper’s Gardens and aquifer sundaes
In addition to weekly educational sessions, campers watered, weeded, and harvested the vegetable gardens. Harvested produce was incorporated into weekly snacks prepared by camp counselors and shared by the campers. By taking part to maintain the gardens, the kids gained a sense of ownership and learned the process of growing their own food sustainably.
Shiawassee Conservation District – facilitated weekly education sessions and oversaw the installation and planting of garden beds
Shiawassee Family YMCA – hosted Camp Shiawassee; worked with youth to maintain, harvest, and prepare food from harvested crops weekly
Natural Resources Conservation District – assisted the Shiawassee Conservation District with education sessions and garden planting
Carlin Centennial Farms – brought a selection of their animals to discuss raising livestock using sustainable techniques (Tennessee Fainting Goat, Painted Desert Lamb, Black Java Hen, Harlequin Duck, Rex Rabbit, Lionhead Rabbit, Holland Lop Rabbit)
Anthony Bee Farm – brought variety of a honey production and collection equipment and hive to display bee pollinators
YMCA Camp Shiawassee youth participants spent two years planting, growing, caring for, harvesting, and enjoying the vegetable gardens that were installed through this project. Additionally, a total of 19 lessons were developed and facilitated presenting various concepts of sustainable agriculture in a fun and interactive manner reaching 697 youth participants of the YMCA Camp Shiawassee. The primary focus of these lessons were ecological benefits of conservation and sustainable agriculture. Lessons on water conservation, soil biology, pollination, and composting exemplified the ecological aspects of sustainable agriculture. Furthermore, the kids gained social awareness of growing food sustainably and knowledge to make healthy food choices by growing their own food. To conclude the final session, the kids were asked their favorite vegetable grown in the garden, their favorite method to consume the vegetables they grew, if they plan on growing vegetables at home in the future, and what they learned from the lessons that were presented. These questions tied the lessons and garden project together and exhibited that the project had a lasting impact on the kids that participated.
In the youth who participated, this project inspired responsibility, a sense of ownership, healthy choices, outdoor enjoyment, and knowledge about growing food sustainably in a limited space. The kids finished the program with a greater understanding of where and how food is grown, what sustainable agriculture and conservation of natural resources means, and enthusiasm to continue the gardens in the years to come. In reflecting on the project, the Conservation District could have experimented with different varieties of vegetables. Specifically, utilized dwarf versions of cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchini plants as they tended to take over the gardens. Also, earlier ripening varieties of tomatoes may have worked better as camp ended before many of the tomatoes were ripe for picking. These are minor details and the overall project is considered a success.
The Shiawassee Camper’s Sustainable Garden and education program was promoted using several different types of media. Initially, a joint press release between the Shiawassee Conservation District and Shiawassee Family YMCA was published in the local Independent Newspaper. Once the gardens were planted, a front-page color spread of the campers with the gardens was printed with an article in the Independent. Weekly, updates were posted to the District Facebook page with color photos and a summary of that week’s activities. Additionally, the District set up a Flickr photo sharing website to post weekly photo updates of the gardens progression. To wrap up each season, the Shiawassee Conservation District featured the program with a write up with photos in the District’s newsletter. Furthermore, photos from the summer program were featured at the Shiawassee Conservation District’s Annual Meeting and a slide show was prepared for the kids to view during the last day while they enjoyed their veggie pizza and aquifer sundaes. This sustainable agriculture garden project is also highlighted on the Conservation District’s website.
During the summer of 2013 and 2014, 697 youth participated in the program. Newspaper articles were distributed to 63,000 households in Shiawassee County and the Shiawassee Conservation District’s newsletter, mailed to 5,900 individual households. Facebook posts reached 1,773 individuals and the District’s home and Flickr photo sharing websites remain active and is actively promoted by the District.
The Shiawassee Camper’s Sustainable Garden social media posts can be found at:
The NCR-SARE grant program reporting is straightforward, the webpage for reporting is user friendly, and responses to inquiries were answered in a timely fashion. The Shiawassee Conservation District does not have any specific recommendations for improvement.