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Garden Mosaics

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Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert Emilio De Torre

Garden Mosaics is designed to unite young people with elder gardeners and people of differing cultures as they work shoulder-to-shoulder gardening, learning, and eating the final products. To help your afterschool program accomplish this goal, the organization provides a program manual, DVD, and Web site, which provide curriculum and supplemental resources. Although the materials can be used throughout the summer months in any afterschool center, they seem especially designed to work successfully in conjunction with an existing community or urban garden whose own volunteers or staff are amenable to collaborating with your afterschool program. There is a significant amount of setup time, pre-reading and research needed in order to make this program work, but if your site can commit the time, and if your program has access to a community garden and organizations interested in a partnership, then this could be a very exciting and mutually beneficial program.
Full Review:
Garden Mosaics is an offshoot of Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension, whose mission is “connecting youth and elders…to investigate the mosaic of plants, people, and cultures in gardens, to learn about science, and to act together to enhance their community.” This is not a how-to gardening program. Rather, the activities work best for audiences that already have some interest and experience with gardening (although there are some hands-on activities for youth who have no experience in this area). It is designed to work in conjunction with an existing community or urban garden whose own volunteers or staff is amenable to uniting with your youth center. Activities are designed for upper elementary through high school youth (ages 10-18), and resources are offered in Spanish as well as English (and there are plans to offer them in other languages as well).

The $88 Garden Mosaics Educational Kit contains a program manual, a DVD, a packet of approximately 40 single-sided full-color science pages, a small poster, an Organic Gardening magazine, a pencil, a 6-inch ruler and some small cards. Watching the DVD, which contains well-filmed video footage of successful Garden Mosaics projects at locations around the United States, is an essential first step. It illustrates how multi-generational participants work together, explore the fundamentals of gardening and horticulture, celebrate multiculturalism, examine the workings of communities, and get elbow deep in dirt as they learn a bit about the world around them—all in under 20 minutes!

The 256-page program manual is comprehensive, but can be difficult to navigate and requires a careful read. Program leaders who contemplate using Garden Mosaics will need to identify which sections are relevant to their particular programmatic circumstances. As a resource to supplement an existing gardening program, it could be quite useful. As a stand-alone item (offered for $20 on their Web site), however, it is overly detailed and difficult to use. The book does have an abundant supply of charts, graphs, and activities useful for instructors interested in creating gardens, working with elder gardeners, and conducting research and experiments in the garden.

Garden Mosaics has a Web site ( that is colorful, fun, and activity-laden, with resources in Spanish as well as English. There are many free printouts (science pages), stories, and information concerning gardens. The Web site can be seen as a useful supplement to the larger Garden Mosaics program or to your own gardening program. The “cool stuff” link has some clear and concise news articles written about Garden Mosaics that do a great job of explaining how the program should look. Visitors to the Web site can also contribute to or explore the “ investigations”—online databases focusing on community gardens, gardeners, neighborhoods, and urban weeds.

The time required to establish this program (reading and digesting the manual and setting up and coordinating with partners) may exceed what is available for your program. However, if you can find the time, the partners and the resources, Garden Mosaics could be a very exciting and mutually beneficial program for afterschool programs, students and partners.