At Michigan State University, two campus-based units, Michigan State University Museum and Michigan 4-H, have long been active in developing cutting-edge programs that help youth learn about their own heritage, their community’s heritage, and their agricultural traditions. These programs facilitate community engagement not only on campus, but also in rural and urban sites all over Michigan, and have served as models for replication in other states.
The Michigan State University Museum’s FOLKPATTERNS, developed in collaboration with the 4-H Youth Programs, encourages youth to document, understand, preserve, and present their own cultural heritage traditions, as well as those of their families and their communities. Youth learn research and documentation skills for inventorying barns and farmsteads; and they collect stories about everything from family recipes to how places in their communities got their names. They then learn how to share their findings with others—through their schools, community libraries and museums, county fairs, and the Internet. Online FOLKPATTERNS materials are widely used by volunteer leaders for 4-H clubs, parents home schooling their children, museum educators, and teachers from elementary through high school.
The Michigan State University 4-H Children’s Garden is a place where plants, children, and imaginations grow. Containing fifty-six themed gardens, the Children’s Garden earned the title of “the most creative half-acre in America.” The Pizza Garden, replicated at the festival included typical pizza ingredients: tomatoes, onions, peppers, parsley, basil, Greek oregano and cheese (represented by marigolds). The garden helped youth to understand the agricultural and cultural roots of a widely popular food item.