Spotlight on Youth Gardens

By Julie Parker-Dickerson

Growing healthy food is the basis for all programming at Youth Farm in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a recent recipient of National Gardening Association's longest running award program, Youth Garden Grants. Youth Farm operates in five different neighborhoods in the Twin Cities, reaching over 800 youth each year. Programming centers around growing, cooking, eating, and ultimately, sharing food. There are no fees or costs for youth participants. In fact, all of the locations employ teen workers to them develop work experience and leadership skills. The effectiveness of their efforts is best illustrated in the high retention rate of returning participants and meals served; over 65 percent of students come back for multiple years, and 2,000 healthy meals are served annually to the community and youth participants using garden produce.

A recent fire at Youth Farm's Frogtown program site resulted in the loss of half of their tools and supplies when their tool shed was vandalized by arson. National Gardening Association's support helped to replace tools and provided funding to purchase lumber for raised beds, as well as supplies to create garden signs. The program looks forward to building hoop houses and enhancing existing composting systems and making connections with several local elementary schools to increase programming opportunities.

Youth Farm was established by David Brant and Karen Lehman in 1995 in an effort to bring the benefits of nature and gardens to youth living in urban areas. Since that time, five gardens have flourished in communities and have expanded to programming within schools. Participants can enter Youth Farm programs at age nine as "Youth Farmers" focusing on developing interpersonal skills and learning to garden and prepare the harvest. "All Stars," children ages 12 and 13, learn to become leaders and focus on cultural competency while learning about the food system. High school participants or "Project LEADs" are engaged in leadership roles, teaching younger students, and developing conflict resolution skills. High school students are focused gaining expertise to help with employment and future careers. Lastly, college-aged participants, known as "Farm Stewards" focus on teaching, greenhouse work, and connecting with the local community. Employment programs at Youth Farm are year-round internships that facilitate growing opportunities even during long Minnesota winters using greenhouses. Collectively, the students who work, teach, and eat at Youth Farm drive the direction and decisions of this 501c3 nonprofit, truly making it a student-led organization.

"Youth Farm interns have recently identified that their participation has led to an increase in their public speaking skills and confidence, as well as their knowledge of their community," comments Frogtown Program Director Beth Ringer. Other benefits of participating and leading youth programs at Youth Farm include instruction from professional chefs, a fresh lunch from the garden each day, and fruit and vegetable donations to the food shelf and families in need. NGA is proud to support programs like Youth Farm that make significant contributions to the overall health and welfare of their communities.

To learn more, go to Youth Farm.

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