Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Planting Knowledge Master Gardeners Lend a Hand at School

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Planting Knowledge Master Gardeners Lend a Hand at School

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey, County Line staff writer

GREEN COVE SPRINGS -- All Larry Minton was after was a brochure and a little bit of advice on planting.

What he ended up with was 1,000 hours of volunteer time from Clay County master gardeners, who have proven to be an invaluable learning tool and mentoring resource for his R.C. Bannerman Learning Center students. He also got a half-acre of grass behind the school transformed into a lush park-like nature habitat, complete with vegetable and herb gardens, ponds and flowers.

And it's not done yet.

Construction is under way this summer on a greenhouse, which will ultimately have a water wheel on one side with a nature trail planned for a nearby wooded area.

"I started out here with 15 stools in one classroom. That was all I had," said Minton, who teaches industrial technology and carpentry at Bannerman. "All this evolved from that . . . It snowballed. It is just unbelievable what has happened."

In 1999, after retiring from a military career, Minton came to work at Bannerman, an alternative high school with programs for teen parents and students who are severely emotionally disturbed or have had discipline problems at other schools.

His single, small classroom later evolved to a larger classroom, then to two classrooms. As he equipped them and got his vocational training program up and running -- his students build sheds for other Clay schools -- he decided to set up a vegetable garden on the school campus as yet another learning tool. He visited Ray Zerba, Clay County's Florida Cooperative Extension agent, for some planting advice and Zerba went further by sending him help from master gardeners.

Zerba was on vacation and last week and could not reached.

Master gardeners are University of Florida-trained volunteer teachers who educate and provide research-based information to Floridians about gardening, while emphasizing environmental stewardship. New program graduates are required to volunteer 50 hours in their communities the first year; then have to put in 30 volunteer hours a year to retain the title.

First, one master gardener came out to Bannerman, then another. Eventually, Minton had 16 master gardeners helping out -- working with him and his students to create mini-gardens near their classroom and creating the nature habitat. The gardeners donated their time and Iluka Resources Inc., a Bannerman business partner, donated materials and supplies.

And with that help, the students got to create something beautiful.

"Every child is capable of doing something, even if it's just driving one nail for [wood] borders of little flower beds. It becomes their little project," Minton said. "They love the hands-on part of it."

It also enhances their academic skills, particularly math and science. …

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