The Gardening 101 Program is expanding quickly at the Northland Arboretum.

Through the program a group of Crow Wing County Master Gardeners has elevated a passion for gardening to a unique teaching and learning opportunity for veterans, youth and interested adults in the Brainerd lakes area.

“Our first year, we had a handful of interested kids in the program and we used the old research beds at the Arb,” said Traci Shrock, Crow Wing County Master Gardener, in a news release. “We now have over 50 participants ranging from veterans to youth and our facilities have more than doubled in size.”

Friends, family members and Crow Wing County Commissioners were invited to an Open House/Garden Wednesday, Aug. 14, at the Arboretum to admire the progress of the program and plants that the participants had made during the growing season.

As guests wandered around, the raised beds enclosed by 8-foot deer fencing, lots of produce was being picked to take home. There was even vegetable and flower swapping.

Kevin Keely, a veteran who participated in the evening classes for veterans and adults, told commissioners Steve Barrows and Bill Brekken that he had been assigned to create the spaghetti sauce for the end of season harvest party.

“I have a boat-load of tomatoes and basil,” said Keely. “The rest of the group promises to make the noodles and share their onions and peppers.”

“We wanted to include more than just youth in the program,” said Vicki Foss, executive director at Northland Arboretum. “We have 40-plus youth this year but knew we wanted to expand the program for the large veteran’s community in our area as well as open it up to adults who haven’t had the opportunity to learn about gardening.”

According to a UCLA research article, getting back to nature can have many benefits. It has also found that gardeners had lower levels of inflammation than non-gardeners, a major contributor to many chronic diseases. Another study looking at individuals with PTSD found lower levels of stress hormones after participating in a gardening therapy program. People who grow their own food also tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, adding a nutritious boost to their diet.

“Gardening is good for everyone!” said Foss. “We want people to be outdoors, learn healthy habits, enjoy the Arboretum, and create a community with one another.”

The Gardening 101 program begins at the end of May and continues through the summer, meeting on Wednesdays through September. Each week, participants learn the science of growing great crops and tricks of the trade from the Crow Wing County Master Gardeners, then spend time in the garden tending their own plots. The class usually ends with a treat that the participants have grown or are challenged to try.

This is the fourth year of the program at the Arboretum and there are plans to continue to expand the program for next summer. Call the Northland Arboretum at 829-8770 for more information for the 2020 growing season.