Growing Together: Washington Co. Master Gardeners

This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Northern Gardener.

On property owned by Retail Construction Services (RCS) in Lake Elmo, University of MInnesota Extension Master Gardeners from Washington County maintain a 6,000 square foot corporate teaching giving garden. More than 200 youth and 200 adult volunteers are active in the garden. They grow food to donate to the local food shelf, Valley Outreach, and have donated over 2,000 pounds of garden produce each year.

BeekeeperA.J. Moses brings beehives to the garden to teach children about pollinators and honey, which is harvested and donated to the food shelf.

BeekeeperA.J. Moses brings beehives to the garden to teach children about pollinators and honey, which is harvested and donated to the food shelf.

“In 2009, Joni Fletty, an RCS employee, was tired of looking out the window and seeing an empty plot of grass, and she had the idea to create a garden,” says master gardener Kathy Luoma, who teaches at the garden with “the vegetable gardening experts”— master gardeners Paul Richtman, Liz Nordling and Deb Lynch. Many employees volunteer at the garden, including RCS owner Steve Bachman.

Preschoolers come to the garden three times during the gardening season. “There’s nothing cuter than a preschooler pulling up a root vegetable and saying, ‘Wook at my Dwagon Cahwit!’ (Look at my Dragon Carrot!),” says Kathy. Although most of the food harvested goes to the food shelf, kids can taste what they harvest. “We did a carrot taste test in the garden—out of yellow, purple and orange carrots, the yellow won.”

She also teaches junior master gardeners basic botany and how to care for plants in fun ways. They start seeds, make signs for the garden and help harvest. On one harvest day, a monarch was about to hatch in a butterfly cage, and the kids ran back and forth between harvesting and checking the butterfly, which they watched emerge from its chrysalis. “The excitement and energy in the garden that day was incredible,” says Kathy.

–Brenda Harvieux