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Chisago County 4-H'ers grow produce, knowledge, and service in their backyards

Each spring, the Minnesota 4-H Foundation distributes grants to 4-H clubs who want to make a difference in their community. We will be featuring one grantee every month this year to celebrate all the wonderful ways Minnesota 4-H’ers are living out the 4-H Pledge. Our October featured grantee provided 4-H'ers with education in gardening through the Junior Master Gardner program in Chisago County, Minnesota. We hope you enjoy their story.

The Soaring Eagles 4-H Club of Chisago County applied for a Helping Hands Grant to fund their Junior Master Gardener program for their recent growing season. This program introduced youth to new gardening skills, types of produce, and even connected them with their community through service projects such as donating produce to the local food shelf and planting flower beds at the county Historical Society. This year was just the beginning for the group, as the project is set to continue for several years—and many 4-H’ers love for gardening has been planted for a lifetime. Madeleine Miller recently spoke to Sophia Nienaber and Ann Rinkenberger, about their club’s Giving through Gardening Helping Hands Grant project.

Madeleine Miller: How long have you each been involved in 4-H?
Sophia Nienaber: This is my seventh year in 4-H. I started when I was in third grade.

Ann Rinkenberger: I was in 4-H as a youth, starting in seventh grade until the end of high school. 4-H was truly a highlight of that period of my life. I have so many good memories from being involved at the club, county, and state levels.

MM: How did the Soaring Eagles 4-H Club decide on this project?
AR: Our club had been doing the Junior Master Gardening curriculum as part of our monthly meetings. However, we wanted to take the program to the next level and do more hands-on activities both in and outside of meetings. We also wanted to be able to do some of the service projects that are part of the curriculum, and make a difference in the community with our gardening skills.

MM: What goals and learning experiences did youth achieve through Giving through Gardening?
AR: The most important learning experience that youth had during the Giving through Gardening project was gaining knowledge and experience in how to plant a variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The youth learned how to select a good garden site…which was critical to ensuring their produce would grow during the summer.

This project also helped them learn that they have the skills and ability to make a positive impact in the community. For example, one of the club members, who is six-years-old, planted her first garden with the “Garden-in-a-Box” components. She managed her garden throughout the summer and donated over 20 pounds of fresh produce to the food shelf. This was an empowering experience for her because she learned that no matter what one’s age, helping others in need is always possible.

The youth also learned about and compared various planting methods: traditional, raised beds, container gardening, square-foot gardening, and companion planting. They were able to see first-hand which methods were most effective in terms of raising produce, both from an ease of planting, maintenance, and harvesting standpoint, as well as from the quantity of produce harvested using each method.

MM: What was your favorite part of the project? Did you gain anything unexpected?
SN: My favorite part was beekeeping. I established a hive at my farm, held beekeeping project meetings for 4-H’ers who wanted to learn more about bees and beekeeping, made a presentation at a nearby nursing home, and competed at the Chisago County Fair and Minnesota State Fair in entomology. I also made two presentations to the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association about my first year in beekeeping.

I’ve never had to make presentations to over 150 people, so my public speaking skills improved a lot. I also learned a ton about bees and beekeeping, and am excited to add another hive next spring.

MM: What was the biggest challenge 4-H’ers faced during this Giving through Gardening project? How was it overcome?
AR: The timing of the project was challenging for us since it was spread over many months (from spring to late-fall). We went from doing activities at our meetings where we had 100% of our members participating in the project to doing activities outside our meetings during the summer. Because many families take a break from homeschooling and choose to do their own activities or gardening over the summer, we didn't have all our club members participating in the project as we had hoped.

However, those youth and parents who did participate in the project were passionate about gardening, eager to learn new skills, and very generous with donating excess produce they grew to the food shelf and families in need. 

We learned that quality and enthusiasm - versus quantity of participants - is equally as valuable. The impact that a project may have on youth who are engaged and excited to learn is invaluable. 

MM: How are you continuing the Giving through Gardeningproject?
AR: We are continuing it in two ways: First, we plan on expanding the Garden-in-a-Box program. This is a three-year program through the Minnesota Horticultural Society. This year, the Soaring Eagles 4-H Club received 10 garden kits and four families (seven youth, nine adults) participated in the program. The kits included the garden box, soil, fertilizer, tomato cages, stakes, fencing, and plants (vegetables, flowers, and herbs). During the next two years, we will receive compost and plants. Secondly, we plan to increase exposure of this program throughout our county. We are establishing a 1.7 acre Pollinator Habitat Plot with a closed-loop trail, and an Education and Planting Day that involves our club and interested community members. We will be working on educational activities and preparing for the event in the upcoming months.

MM: Lastly, why should youth join 4-H, and adults support 4-H? 
SN: 4-H provides real-life, hands-on learning opportunities that build skills and knowledge in youth. These experiences prepare youth to be leaders who have positive visions for changing the world - whether it be locally or globally. Youth learn that they can make a difference in the lives of others through service to the community. 

AR: Adults should support 4-H either through volunteering or by making financial gifts as an investment in the future. We get to help shape the world in a positive way. Adults who share their skills and educate youth introduce them to possibilities that they may never know about otherwise. Having programs through 4-H that are free or have a very low-cost enables youth of every sort to feel included and be a part of something meaningful. It shows that all youth have value and worth.


The Minnesota 4-H Foundation is proud to help youth from across the state develop skills and gain new experiences while making a difference in their community through our Helping Hands Grant program. To learn more about these grants, visit

By Madeleine Miller
Minnesota 4-H Foundation
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