AUBURN | Getting children rooted in gardening can have a positive effect on their development later in life, according to Cornell University studies.

But in a world where children are more inclined to reach for their phones instead of plants, Cornell representatives believe garden educators need to find ways to engage children in a fun and meaningful way to perhaps draw out an interest in agriculture.

The keys to successful garden education were reviewed during a three-hour seminar on Wednesday hosted by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cayuga County at its Auburn facility.

The goal of the Take Root! training program is to impart creative ways to foster gardening with youths, whether this is done through traditional classroom lessons and hands-on learning outdoors. It was the first time that the CCE of Cayuga County has held the program and was supported by a grant from the Cayuga County Health Department.

"We wanted to connect with people in the county who teach about gardening for what sorts of things youths can get out of gardening beyond getting dirty," said Becky Crawford, community nutrition educator.

Crawford said another goal of the program was to promote awareness of the CCE's master gardener program, a hotline available to gardeners with any sort of garden-based questions.

Wednesday's class was led by Liz Falk of the Cornell Garden-Based Learning program. She spoke before more than 10 individuals including four master gardeners and several teachers, educators and other volunteers.

Through the program, organizers are seeking to help participants "to empower their community," Falk said. She covered several points during the discussion including working with youth through garden-based lesson plans and simple methods to get a garden going and growing.

With youth development, Falk said the key is to work with children to make them feel important. Instead of finding problems with a child's temperament and behavior during classes, educators were instead encouraged to play off those behaviors and turn them into strengths.

A child that cannot sit still should be encouraged to use that energy in a productive manner, such as filling holes or other motor activity in a garden, instead of simply being told to sit still, Falk said. By doing that, teachers are shifting the educational paradigm.

"We want to go from the reactive to the proactive," Falk said.

The seminar also included some hands-on learning. One activity saw participants blindly reach into a bag for a random object. Objects were anything from a tennis ball to a shriveled mushroom to a tin of Altoids. Students were then tasked into coming up with a creative way to apply such an object to a garden-based curriculum.

One of Falk's talking points also included reviewing the botany basics with the gathered gardeners. She showed them how to test the quality of soil through simple means.

Sharon Krickovich, a volunteer gardener with the PEER's Place program, found Falk's tips on the "lasagna" method to starting a garden especially helpful. The method calls for alternating layers of carbon- and nitrogen-based materials — such as cardboard and compost, respectively — to formulate the soil bed.

Falk equated the process to making a lasagna, and gardeners are free to plant after several layers in that order.

"We are definitely going to take this back and apply it," Krickovich said.

Staff writer Greg Mason can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or greg.mason@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenMason.

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