As soon as local resident Rick Meyers gave them the “go ahead”, their eyes brightened and filled with wonder. The hunt was underway!
Fourteen young ladies from the summer program at Girls Inc. scattered throughout a garden in search of squash and cucumbers.
They filled a basket with several varieties of the vegetables – smooth yellow large and small squash along with green pudgy squash, and long, curly, green cucumbers along with others of varying sizes, some of which felt smooth and others that were quite prickly. They then scurried to collect small red and orange tomatoes, many of which never made it into the collection bowl. The warm sun made them quite tasty.
The visit to Meyers’ garden on Morristown Road was a field trip arranged between Meyers and Ashley Dillon, the greenhouse coordinator at Girls Inc.
“We have been building a relationship with the Purdue Master Gardeners (in Shelby County),” Dillon said. “Rick’s a master gardener and he donated some things to us and invited me to bring the girls out sometime. I wanted to show them you don’t have to have acres and acres to have something. I wanted to expose them to different styles of gardening.”
The gardening program has continued to grow and change at Girls Inc. since the November 2018 completion of the outdoor science lab and greenhouse. In May 2018, raised garden beds were added at the south side of the 904 S. Miller St. Girls Inc. building, according to Dillon.
“There was a hill that wasn’t being used,” she said. “An engineer and Mathias Landscaping agreed it would work.”
Ryobi Die Casting, a local industry, donated supplies for the project, she said, and four different tiered beds were built. Various flowers and vegetables grow in the beds and are cared for by Girls Inc. members generally in grades kindergarten through fifth, according to Dillon.
“They use microscopes and handheld magnifying glasses, too and look for bugs,” said Dillon. “The whole purpose (of the gardening program) is to give the girls hands-on (experience). They think you just go to the store and buy vegetables, fruits and flowers.”
The program allows them to learn the growing procedure from beginning to end. “They learn that planting is a process,” said Dillon including preparation of the soil and rows to allow spring planting.
In the fall, they make seed balls with the flower seeds collected from the growing season by wrapping them in newspaper so they are ready to plant the following spring.
Seeds, of course, are crucial.
“I love to plant seeds,” Meyers told the girls. “I love to watch things grow. I enjoy seeing how things change.”
The 70-year-old said when he moved to his house 33 years ago, there was one tree at the north side of the house. Now trees are scattered around the property, all of which Meyers said he planted, including a “tiny orchard of fruit trees” (two plum trees, a cherry tree, several apple trees, two Red Haven peach trees, and a nectarine and apricot tree).
Meyers said he makes and cans pear and apple butter, applesauce, salsa, tomato juice, diced tomatoes, strawberry jam, and various pickle combinations. He also makes different types of fruit and vegetable breads, about 30 loaves, and freezes them for sale at the women’s bake sale at Little Blue River Baptist Church.
As the weather cools, the Girls Inc. gardening programming will move inside the greenhouse.
“We use it all year long for growing plants and classroom learning,” said Dillon. “The community’s been a great help in providing us with houseplants and supplies.”
Dillon has been a part of the Girls Inc. staff for four years. She has a two-year associate degree in Horticulture Technology from Vincennes University, a bachelor degree in Applied Management from Trine University, and a two-year agriculture degree from Ivy Tech. She grew up on a farm in Ripley County between the cities of Osgood and Napoleon.
She has at least one goal in mind for the future of the program at Girls Inc.
“I would like a steady supply eventually so we can can,” she said. Right now the yield from the garden goes home with the girls. “Sometimes they don’t make it to the door. They wash it and eat it before they take it home.”
What the girls learn about growing vegetables, fruits, and flowers gives them an appreciation for planting seeds and watching them grow, said Meyers. “I just plant and care for the garden. There’s a power greater and stronger than me that does the growing.”
Dillon has noticed the girls are sharing what they have learned, too.
“It’s not just stopping here (at Girls Inc.),” said Dillon. “It’s having a ripple effect and going to their friends and families.”
This sharing, according to Dillon, has expanded the lines of communication this summer between these young ladies and their parents, other relatives, friends, and neighbors.