2018 Youth Garden Grant Winners

Youth Garden Grant Winners
Yisrael Family Urban Farm in Sacramento, CA

Kids Gardening’s Youth Garden Grant (YGG) is an award designed to support school and youth educational garden projects that enhance the quality of life for students and their communities. We’ve been helping get young people into the garden with this grant since 1982!

Selecting just twenty-five programs for our 2018 awards from among the over 800 entries we received was tough—there are so many schools and organizations across the country with exciting plans and programs focused on bringing gardening’s benefits to kids.

We’d like to introduce you to our top five 2018 YGG winners and tell you a little bit about their youth garden programs. These garden programs hail from many parts of the country — Maine, New York, South Dakota, Kansas, and California. We hope you’ll find their stories inspiring and perhaps come away with ideas to try in your own garden program!

The Boys and Girls Club in Waterville, Maine runs a robust after-school program that serves, on average, 200 young people daily, the majority of whom experience food insecurity at home. Their Kids’ Kitchen, an integral part of their program, offers a free, hot, nutritious meal to every participant. Five years ago, as a way to teach kids about good nutrition and provide additional healthful produce to the meals they serve, the Club put in a garden with five raised beds and 30 youthful participants. And has this garden grown! This past year, 200 youth gardeners managed 12 raised and multiple in-ground beds in the Club’s Sustainable Gardens program. Their new 42-foot diameter Growing Dome, complete with Aquaponics and Hydroponics learning labs, is scheduled to be ready for action in early 2018, giving youth in the program the opportunity to garden year-round. The program’s Garden Coordinator connects the gardening activities to STEM subjects, with lessons that dovetail with the kids’ school curriculum at the appropriate grade levels. There are also lots of exciting future plans in the works. The program plans on starting a youth-operated produce stand, giving kids hands-on business experience, as well as making produce available to the community; renovating the Kids’ Kitchen to include a Teaching Kitchen where kids can learn to use what they’ve grown to prepare healthy dishes and plan nutritious meals; and bringing a nutritionist on board to teach youth and family classes. This exceptional program has strong community support as it brings the benefits of gardening—educational, nutritional, social and developmental—to the youth of Waterville.

Across the country, in Sacramento, California, the Yisrael Family Urban Farm seeks to connect low-income people to the resources and support they need to grow fresh food through Project GOOD (Growing Our Own Destiny). Urban farming is the theme that connects all their activities, outputs, outcomes and goals into an integrated process of youth development. The idea of the urban farm includes three overlapping themes: cultivating land, cultivating self, and cultivating community. Each day the farm’s participants, low-income and/or disengaged middle and high school students, actively learn to take care of the land, themselves and their community as they and their families grow, cook and eat good food. The program’s quarter-acre organic garden is located on the grounds of a closed school that has been repurposed as a community center. It boasts 30 fruit trees, along with 14 raised beds and an outdoor arbor classroom shaded by grape vines. There are plans to add an outdoor cooking area, update the composting area, and add more seating for meals and activities. Not only does the program increase leadership, community engagement and enthusiasm for learning, it improves food security and nutrition for its youthful gardeners and their families.

Preschoolers are the focus of the Lorax Garden program run by Child Start. Inc. that will provide school garden programs for Head Start centers in Butler County, Kansas. The Head Start program works with low-income families with preschool children to provide a range of services, including those related to health, nutrition and parental involvement. Recognizing that children growing up in poverty are particularly at risk for stunted growth due to poor nutrition, the purpose of the garden program is to supplement other nutrition services and instill healthy eating habits among Head Start children and their families. The program will use a connection to the beloved children’s’ books of Dr. Seuss as a unique engagement strategy, incorporating hands-on garden activities that connect to his books, The Lorax and Green Eggs and Ham. Each 10 x 10 foot garden area will contain four raised beds with a strawberry tower at the center of the plot designed to look a tree in the Lorax story. Parental engagement activities will provide families with the necessary knowledge and support to start home gardens and eat healthier diets that include plenty of fruits and vegetables.

The P53K Garden is located at [email protected] Spring Creek, a high school in Brooklyn, NY that serves students with mental and physical disabilities. The goal of the garden is to address both types of disability through a garden design that is accessible in every way and provides an inclusive, hands-on learning experience for students to gain skills that will benefit them both in and out of the school environment. Through the garden, many students have already been able to engage in planting, maintenance and learning about nature. With its YGG award, the garden program leadership team hopes to make the garden experience available to all by further modifying the environment to support the needs of every student in the school. At P53K their vision is “Growth, Transition, Independence.” They feel that all students deserve the opportunity to have experiences that inspire this process, including an authentic garden experience in a fully accessible garden.

In Misson, South Dakota, the REDCO Community Food Sovereignty Initiative has developed the Keya Wakpala Community Garden, a one-acre production and teaching garden that serves to increase the amount of locally grown food on the Rosebud Reservation, as well as educate and engage the community, especially youth, in local food production. Currently one third of the garden space is in market garden production and one third is devoted to communal gathering spaces and year-round growing structures. REDCO plans to use its YGG award to help develop the remaining garden space into a youth-focused educational garden that incorporates the Lakota identity of the community. This new garden will educate young gardeners about traditional Lakota foodways, focusing on indigenous seeds and planting techniques, on telling the story of Lakota foods, and revitalizing traditional Lakota foodways, such as drying meat and berries. It will also incorporate elements of sensory learning and nature play. Local youth will be involved in the design of the garden itself, empowering them and cultivating their sense of ownership.  The garden’s leadership hopes with this garden to develop a model that other communities on the reservation can follow, spreading the benefits that gardening offers in the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional education of young people through growing food.