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Kids learn where food comes from thanks to NMSU Bernalillo County Extension program

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - If you ask most children where their food comes from, they will likely say the grocery store. New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service is working to set the record straight.


Man with three children in a garden.
John Garlisch, Bernalillo County Extension 4-H and natural resources agent, teaches youth about horticulture with the Junior Master Gardener program. During the summer he will teach up to 300 students a week through various youth recreation programs. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

John Garlisch, NMSU Bernalillo County Extension 4-H and natural resources agent, is showing urban youth were their food comes from through a Junior Master Gardener program that he teaches to school classes, home-school groups, after-school programs, and summer recreation programs.

"I want to unplug the youth from their computers, television and video games, and get them grounded back into nature and back into agriculture, where a lot of our roots truly exists," Garlisch said.

"In the urban setting of Albuquerque, a lot more people are disconnected from where their food comes from. With food accessibility issues, diabetes issues and obesity issues, it's important to teach the students where their food comes from, and how fruits and vegetables grow."

Through the Junior Master Gardener and Ag in the Classroom curricula, Garlisch teaches youngsters various aspects of horticulture, agriculture and natural resources to the youth.

"Besides teaching them about horticulture and agriculture, I talk to them about caring for our natural resources," he said. "We talk a lot about recycling and respecting the Earth, so we can re-use and re-utilize all of our natural resources."

The students range in age from pre-school to high school, and Garlisch tailors the curriculum to the educational level and interests of each group.

"Weekly, I teach between 125 to 200 students during the school years," he said. "During the summer months, when different recreation programs ask for specific help, I see anywhere from 300 to 400 kids each week."

Garlisch teaches 15 to 20 different topic units, including basic soils, composting, insects and pollination, and the water cycle.

"We also talk about eating different vegetables and fruits in order to have a healthier diet," he added.

During a recent class of home-schooled children, who ranged in age from 5 to 7, the students planted herbs in the Albuquerque Area Extension Master Gardener's demonstration garden located at the Extension office grounds at 1510 Menaul Blvd.

Garlisch showed the students how to place the plants far enough apart to give adult plants plenty of space. He then allowed each student to dig a hole and place the plant in it. Finally, the students watered each plant while counting to 10 out loud to be sure it received enough water.

The students also looked for pea pods on plants they had planted during an earlier class.

Once the students found a pod, Garlisch invited them to eat it while asking them what it tasted like. The answer: "Snap peas."

The students also learned about composting by helping Garlisch place items in the established compost pile at the demonstration garden.

"What types of things do we put in a compost pile? Do we put plastic, aluminum or glass in the compost pile?" he asked the students, who responded with a resounding "No."

"How about egg shells, coffee grounds, banana peels, mowed grass, and newspaper?" he asked. The students' answer was a loud "Yes."

"The kids are loving these classes,' Garlisch said. "And they seem to be retaining what they are learning."

For more information about the Junior Master Gardener program contact Garlisch at 505-243-1386 or visit www.bernalilloextension.nmsu.edu.