CONTINENTAL - Charlene Finch started the Junior Gardeners group four years ago as part of her Defiance County Master Gardeners project. She liked it and the participants so much that she continued the program year after year.

"We had 36 kids the first year," recalls Finch. "We started out just planting flowers in the Continental park and down at the library. There was a very small vegetable garden that year, and we did concrete garden leaves as a craft. The next year we had the privilege of planting flowers at the American Legion and Heitmeyer Funeral Home, as well as the library and park. We've done that ever since."

Many of the craft projects were and still are done right in Finch's backyard. Creative projects include gourd art using gourds purchased from an Ayersville farm.

The second year included the addition of nature field trips to the list of junior gardener activities. The 2013 field trip stops include Nothing But Nature, an organic herb and flower farm in Charloe, and Black Swamp Raptor Rehabilitation Center, Pandora.

"I think it's important that the kids learn the importance of nature in their environment. Plus it keeps them outside," notes Finch.

Children ranging in age from six to 12 are invited to participate in the program each year. The first part of the summer the group meets once a week on Mondays for an hour and a half at a time. Since there is a large number of students involved, 24 in 2013, participation is broken into two classes.

"This year I've had the most parent help. That's nice," says Finch. "My sister Donelda Prowant helps me, too."

There is no required fee to be a Continental junior gardener. Finch's own pocket paid for materials and seeds at first. Now the group receives donations, holds fifty-fifty raffles and sells food at the Continental fall festival to fund summer gardening projects.

The junior gardeners also offer pumpkin painting at the Continental fall festival. All proceeds from this and other fundraising events are deposited in a bank account established by Finch just for the junior gardeners program.

Two things that are most assuredly required of each junior gardener who chooses to work with Finch are an active green thumb and a good attitude.

"The kids must work," says Finch. "They pull weeds, plant and tend what they plant. We live with positive reinforcement, no arguing, no fighting, no bullying. Everyone gets along. We like it that way."

Finch hopes to work with the group to start seedlings in the Continental library early in 2014. She feels this will allow children to nurture their green goods from the start as well as give the junior gardeners a leg up for the growing season.

Although the current roster of junior gardeners are from Continental, Finch is open to involvement from the surrounding communities.

"They just need to call," she says.