Throughout the fall and spring, students at Dunbar Primary School can be seen tending their community garden with the help of several Master Gardeners.

Five gardeners volunteer their time to help students learn about their gardens and the vegetables they grow as a part of the Master Gardener program at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office.

“I love gardening; I’ve done gardening for years,” Linda Bates said. “I felt like I could get more knowledge and could work with other people through this program.”

James McEntire and Linda Conner echoed Bates’ sentiments. They said they have become really close from their time in the program.

“They’re my favorite people,” Conner said.

“We’re the trouble-makers,” McEntire said.

The students gathered for their first plant of the season last week. They marked their beds and portioned out space for the different vegetables. The students said some plants looked a little sad and droopy, but McEntire told them with a little water, they would start growing and stand up on their own.

“Don’t worry about me; I have tomatoes at my house. I’m a gardener,” 7-year-old Nikhil Gajaraju assured McEntire and his classmates.

Part of the program’s purpose is to introduce the students to foods they have never tried before. The gardeners hold taste tests with fresh veggies throughout the year, culminating in one final taste test in which the students get to try their own veggies cooked.

“By the end of the year, we do a final taste test, and it’s surprising the number of them who liked a vegetable they would not have tried otherwise,” Bates said.

On their first session of the year last week, the gardener apprentices tried yellow squash and zucchini. The Master Gardeners had the students employ each of their senses.

They were encouraged not to voice their opinions just yet so they wouldn’t sway the opinions of their classmates, but some opinions made it through.

“Last time I tried these, I didn’t like them, but now I do,” 7-year-old Aubrey Minchew said. “Maybe because they’re fresh.”

“This is my first time trying vegetables,” 7-year-old Landon Black said. “It’s really good! Well, it’s kind of gross a little bit, but it’s still good.”

Second-grade teacher Lori Bennett said there are many benefits of having the Master Gardeners around.

“Sometimes the students have never tried the vegetables, never gardened at all or have never even met a gardener,” Bennett said. “They get a chance to try it all, and it’s really cool. By the end of the year, they have formed a great bond with these ladies and men, and it’s fantabulous to watch them interact with them.”

Working with the children has been special to the Master Gardeners, as well. Many of the students are as smart as a whip, Bates said.

“Kids’ brains are like little sponges; they suck in everything you say to them, just about,” Conner said.

“I love working with the kids, and I get tickled when I get called out on something,” McEntire said. “When we first got started, I got asked a question I didn’t know the answer to, and one of the teachers says, you can tell them anything. They won’t know any different. So I tried that the next time around, and guess what — I got corrected.”

Grace Juarez’s email address is grace.juarez@lufkindailynews.com.