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Junior Master Gardeners plant, harvest, learn

Master gardener Shirley Guild of Austin detassels and pollinates sweet corn with Blake Petrik of Austin Thursday at the Junior Master Gardeners class held at the Mower County Fairgrounds in Austin. The class is held every Thursday through summer from 10 AM to noon and open to those in third grade and older.

The Mower County Fair is still a couple weeks away, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been activity at the fairgrounds. A group of kids and adult leaders meet a couple times a week near the 4-H building for the Mower County Junior Master Gardeners program.

The young gardeners helped plant a large garden full of squash, peppers, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins and more. The kids take on the responsibility of taking care of the garden with weeding, watering and harvesting the veggies.

Each class, encouraged for kids grade three and up, has the gardening element, and speakers share information that relates to gardening. The program is run through the University of Minnesota Extension.

It's the fifth year of the program and 4-H program coordinator Melissa Koch hears lots of stories from parents about how kids are helping pick out what to get in the veggie section at the grocery story.

"Kids are going home and sharing with them what they're growing in the garden," Koch said.


The classes center around garden-related themes and the kids will do some pickling and jam making. They also have a field trip to the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, where they will help tag butterflies.

On Thursday, the kids also heard from Pete Rush, of Albert Lea, a retired University of Minnesota professor, about bees. About 10 kids listened and learned about the most important thing about bees, pollination, Rush said. It's important for fruits and veggies, he said.

Kids have a chance to try foods they maybe haven't before when they harvest the veggies. Thursday, some of them munched on jalapenos, a first time for some.

"What kid wakes up and has jalapenos?" Koch said. "Not me as a kid."

Kellie Baier, 12, of Austin, was one of the brave ones to try the pepper, and she said they were hot. Ashley Conradt, of Rose Creek, on the other hand did not, because she was afraid it would be too hot. Kellie has been a regular at the classes twice a week. She likes the garden and harvesting, but that's just part of it. 

"It's really fun," Kellie said. "We get to hang with friends."

The class meets Thursday mornings and Monday evenings at the fairgrounds. There's no cost to the kids, with financial help coming from the local 4-H, grants and donations of time and plants. For more information, call the Extension office at 437-9552.

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