With his face nearly covered by an oversize green hood, Daysen Clark studied the long-legged seedling that he held in his tiny hand.
All around him, his classmates were busy pushing their own hands deep into the black overturned earth to create the holes they needed to plant their own seedlings at Homestead Organics Farm just south of Hamilton.
“I’ve never planted anything before,” Clark said to no one in particular. “I’m not really sure how.”
But that didn't stop him from learning.
He reached down and pulled away a big ball of roots left from last year’s plantings. After studying that, too, for a few moments, he gently placed it on the ground alongside him and put his seedling in the hole he'd just created.
After he pushed some dirt back in around the plant’s roots, the Hamilton kindergartner looked up and smiled.
“I guess that’s how you do it,” he said.
For the last seven, maybe eight years, kindergartners from Hamilton have been getting their hands dirty while getting a close-up lesson on where their food comes from at Henry Wuensche and Laura Garber’s organic farm.
Last week was the third time this year’s class of youngsters had been out to visit the couple’s farm animals and learn a thing or two about growing things.
After throwing popcorn to the pen filled with miniature pigs and piglets, and reaching through the fence to pet a few, the kindergartners filed over to the piece of garden that had been turned just for them.
“It’s been just a great partnership,” said Washington Elementary School kindergarten teacher Rori Lant, as she watched her students happily planting a variety of flowers. “For a lot of these kids, this is the first time they’ve had a chance to be around farm animals or plant something. It’s a wonderful experience for them.”
The program hosted 120 kindergartners this year.
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Their first visit in the fall offered them a chance to harvest potatoes that were planted by last year’s kindergarten class. Last month, they helped plant flower seeds that became the seedlings the youngsters planted this week.
Garber said they’re not only learning the basics of planting, the youngsters are experiencing the chance to give something back. Just as last year’s class planted potatoes that were harvested by this year young Kinder-Gardeners, next year’s group will have a chance to enjoy the flowers when they arrive on the scene.
“Planting these flowers for next year’s class is a form of service,” Garber said. “When they leave today, they’ll know that they’ve given something to those who will follow.”
Lant said her students have been given the opportunity to learn all sorts of lessons on their three trips to the farm.
“Today, they had a chance to see the progression of those seeds they planted,” Lant said. “It’s a really great opportunity for them. Laura and Henry have been so generous to offer this to our community.”
The Kinder-Gardeners Project is one of several offered by the nonprofit Cultivating Connections that operates under the nonprofit umbrella of the Bitter Root RC&D.
The programs include an innovative a Youth Farm Internship program that offers teenagers a chance to spend a summer season at Homestead Organics learning the skills they’ll need to become future leaders in agriculture and society.
Cultivating Connections also works with Ravalli County Council on Aging to offer “Salads for Seniors” and the Bitterroot Arts for Autism to host a “Special Abilities Camp.”
This year’s class of Kinder-Gardeners were offered a chance to win a weekly share box of vegetables raised by the “Youth Farm Internship” program. The winners were Lacey Bills, Devon Jessop, Olyver Arnold, Anna Collins, Sicily Carter, Evee Anderson and Raylon Harman.
Garber said she and her husband have enjoyed all the energy that comes their way from the Kinder-Gardener program.
“It does take quite a bit of planning and preparation on my and Henry’s part, but it’s really fun,” Garber said. “It’s something we love to do.”