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School-age children learn life skills and a love of vegetables through this 4-H program.
Published Feb. 4, 2008

The cool weather vegetables are harvested, the plots are mostly cleared and the leftovers have been composted.

But the work isn't over: In two weeks, the kids from the Chester Ochs 4-H Educational Center will start planting their spring crops.

Twice a year, 4-H members ages 5 to 18 plant and care for their own garden plots with assistance from 4-H agents and volunteer master gardeners.

Along the way, they learn life skills such as organization, critical thinking and cooperation, said Jean Rogalsky, 4-H agent with the Pinellas County Extension Office and the University of Florida.

"That's really the foundation, but they also learn about sustainable life choices," Rogalsky said.

For instance, the children learn about non-chemical pest control methods, the value of composting and how to conserve water through the use of rain barrels they create themselves.

The program also exposes children to vegetables they may not have eaten before, Roglasky said.

"If they grow it, they'll eat it," she said.

That's exactly the effect the garden has had on Mark Stiehler's children, Ramius, 8, and Reanna, 6.

"They want to cook more. They want to plant more. They love it," said Stiehler, of Seminole.

Amanda James said her children, Whitney, 7, and Ben, 4, have started to love vegetables since they started tending their own plots. It's not uncommon for them to munch on veggies or herbs in the car on the way home, she said.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Whitney put a cardboard carton around a cauliflower plant to discourage foragers. "It's to protect it from the rabbits, because they can't stick their little noses down in there," she said.

The second-grader at Ridgecrest Elementary in Largo said she weeded, watered and pruned to get ready to plant her spring garden. "That thing was out of control," she said.

After harvesting, "we bring it home and cook together and experiment," said Amanda James. The whole family has gotten in on the act, with surprising consequences, she said.

Unfamiliar with mustard and collard greens before they started coming to the 4-H garden, the leafy green vegetables have now become a family staple, Amanda James said.

"My husband," she said, "makes some mean greens now."

Rita Farlow can be reached at or (727) 445-4162.


To learn more

The Chester Ochs 4-H Educational Center is at 14644 113th Ave. N, Largo. Spring garden planting will begin Feb. 12 and some spots are still available. Children ages 5 to 18 can register until Feb. 15.

Cost: $10 4-H membership fee. Call Jean Roglasky at 582-2597 .