Boonville kids are getting their hands dirty with the fourth annual Children’s Learning Garden. The program, which is in its fourth year, teaches children under the age of 10 how to grow their own produce.

“This past week, we harvested our first vegetables and made a salad,” said Jane Lago, president of Missouri’s Master Gardeners. “I’ve never seen kids so excited about eating vegetables.”

This year, 22 children gather each Tuesday night at the Concerned Citizens of a Better Community building. Mary Jenkins, chair of the program, starts each session by reading a gardening-related book before moving to some hands-on learning.

“We encourage them to eat fresh produce, and show them how to sustain themselves when food might be limited,” said Jenkins. “It is so rewarding to watch them get excited about this.”

The program is run by Missouri’s Master Gardeners. This free University of Missouri Extension group provides in-depth horticultural education to individuals across Missouri who then volunteer their time applying what they learned to help others in their communities learn about gardening and environmental education. To earn the title of Master Gardeners trainees put in 30 hours in the classroom and then volunteer for 30 hours.

“It’s been a very rewarding experience,” said Eddie Hoppy, who joined the Master Gardeners last year.

Hoppy helped to create a garden plot outside of the CCBC before the children’s gardening program started this year, and also attends the weekly classes. He’s been gardening his entire life.

“It’s important to instill these skills from a young age,” Hoppy said.

This children’s learning garden is the largest garden maintained by Boonville’s Master Gardeners. The group also maintains a garden behind the old jail and plants flowers in the planter boxes downtown. Each spring, they also man a table in front of Walmart’s gardening section to answer any questions people buying seeds or plants may have.

“At the end of this program, we just hope that these kids learn the skill of gardening and the benefits of eating fresh food,” Jenkins said. “We just felt there was a great need to teach these skills, because kids really aren’t learning them anywhere else.”