2019 Youth Garden Grant Winners

youth garden grant winnersPlease help us congratulate our 2019 Youth Garden Grant Winners!

With over 800 applications from all 50 states and Washington, DC, it was truly amazing to discover all of the wonderful and diverse youth programs growing healthy and happy kids through gardening in our communities.  To all those who applied, thank you for taking the time to share your program with us.  You inspired us and brought us great joy in knowing that the youth garden movement is taking root in this country and growing by leaps and bounds. We wish we could have awarded you all.

A special thanks to our 2019 Trellis Sponsor Gardener’s Supply Company, our Blossom Sponsor, Fine Gardening, and our Seed Money Sponsors, America’s Best Flowers, B.B. Barns, Bluestone Perennials, Epicor, Stark Bro’s, and Wood Prairie Family Farm. We are also immensely thankful for all of our award package sponsors including Deer Busters, Dramm,Eartheasy, Fiskars, Gardener’s Supply Company, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Javacycle Organic Fertilizers, Smart Pot, SunGrow Horticulture, and Watex Green Living.

Here are a few garden stories from our 2019 Top 5 Winners to share with you:

Roosevelt High Ecology Club, Roosevelt High School
Fresno, CA

The RHS Ecology Club boost a membership of 100 students representing a diverse cross section of Roosevelt High School located in Fresno, California who share a common interest in gardening, nature, and community involvement. The students have created and actively maintain 12 gardens using a minimal budget, donated and propagated plants, and recycled and reclaimed materials with the goal of increasing the visibility of natural, aesthetically pleasing landscapes on their campus in an effort to inspire positive environmental attitudes among in all students. Club members take on the leadership of each garden project from start to finish.  They identify potential garden locations, study the site conditions, measure available resources, develop action plans, reach out to local businesses and community members for support, organize needed materials, install the garden and then ultimately maintain each garden space.

With their Youth Garden Grant, the RHS Ecology Club plans to install two new large, drought-resistant landscapes that demonstrate sustainable gardening practices specific to local climate conditions and challenges. “Issues facing the Central Valley of California include low and increasingly sporadic amounts of surface water, depleted groundwater from over-pumping, increasing frequencies of drought, high agricultural pesticide usage, loss of habitat for pollinators, increased urbanization of the local lands, poor air quality and more,” states club advisor Reid Gromis. “Typical landscaping throughout the community represents the English Garden style with heavy water, fertilizer and pesticide usage. Maintenance of these landscapes creates a lot of waste and air pollution. This style of landscaping is unsustainable and negatively impacts our community’s health and future livability. Our garden will demonstrate ways that individuals could positively impact these problems in their own gardens and landscapes.”

Reid shares that in addition to the environmental benefits, the garden program is also making a positive and long-term impact on the lives of the club members. “While working on these hands-on opportunities, teenagers let down their guard and express real wonder and curiosity about the materials and systems which they are interacting with. They get excited about finding bugs in the soil, getting their hands dirty, and leaving something for others to enjoy. The on-campus gardens provide a safe place for these students to enjoy themselves in a neighborhood that isn’t so child-friendly. Many students also live in apartments and have no access to working directly with the Earth in their own space. Creating and maintaining the gardens generates physical activity opportunities in an engaging and real way. All students involved in these projects leave with sharper understandings of the natural world, teamwork, and their own abilities, skills and interests. The overall goal of these on-campus gardening projects is to inspire students to be excited about gardening and connected to nature. Students will carry this joy and enthusiasm throughout their entire life where they can inspire others to care about issues that are important to them. The participants will also realize how they can get involved in local and global causes to making their community and world a better place through personal action.”

Growing Valencia Garden Program, Valencia Newcomer School
Phoenix, AZ

A unique inner city school, Valencia Newcomer School was created to exclusively serve the local immigrant and refugee population in Phoenix, Arizona. With 17 different primary home languages represented, students have been in the United States for less than 2 years and arrived with their families from a diverse set of developing countries (such as Guatemala, Mexico, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) seeking refugee asylum. Garden Coordinator Jessica Hauer explains that “our students have grown up in harsh environments. Many of these countries are in civil unrest and most of our students have lived extended periods in refugee camps. Our families come to the US for a better quality of life.  Some have endured traumatic life events prior to arriving and are lucky to have survived. As a result, many of our students have behavioral and emotional needs. Additionally, for many of our students this is their first time being exposed to a school setting.”

The mission of Valencia Newcomer School is to prepare students to enter a mainstream public school system. Their garden program is one tool they are using as they focus on whole child development. “The goal of Growing Valencia Garden Program is for it to be an embedded part of our school’s academic curriculum that will aim at using gardening techniques and theory to learn a solid foundation in oral and written English language development, along with healthy emotional growth to foster positive social development for our young learners. The garden is a valuable tool for our students and staff and it has proved to be a great environment to help ease the difficult transition into US culture and a new public school system.”

Jessica continues on to explain that they see the garden as a space for experiential learning to reinforce their academic curriculum “rooted in the belief that learning how the natural world functions will aid in the learning of math concepts, abstract thinking, cause and effect, and understanding the science behind how things grow.” They also use the garden to “establish a responsibility and appreciation for the world around us and to foster a sense of stewardship to the land and environment.” Beyond the academic curriculum, they also use the garden as a tool for social and emotional learning. “Our garden is critical in areas of behavioral modification, it is used as an emotional healing outlet for our students to help process their feelings and emotions that result from the trauma they have experienced.”

Teen Farmers' Market Program, Advocates for Healthy Transitional Living
De Pere, Wisconsin

The Teen Farmers’ Market Program (TFMP) launched as a way to help teenaged foster youth develop skills and habits to help them as they transition into adult life. Community Garden Coordinator Margaret Franchino explains “Participants grow, harvest and sell produce in weekly summer sessions that also include speakers on topics from nutrition to marketing and field trips to sustainability-focused organizations. Through this, youth build life and work skills, including organization, communication, critical thinking, goal setting, responsibility, and teamwork, along with horticultural skills. By staffing their own market booth, participants gain additional work and personal skills, including leadership, social skills, customer service, and financial management. Furthermore, they gain horticulture skills which could directly apply to future employment, as local farmers need more skilled workers.”

Research has shown that youth who grow up in foster care face many challenges in young adulthood related to health, employment and homelessness. TFMP is a collaboration of many community organizations including Advocates for Healthy Transitional Living and Brown County University of Wisconsin Extension who are using a multifaceted garden-based approach to impact health of youth in foster care with the overarching goal of providing them with brighter futures.

Parkview Children's Garden, Parkview Community Greenhouse and Learning Kitchen
Fort Wayne, Indiana

The Parkview Children’s Garden is a new addition to the Parkview Community Greenhouse and Learning Kitchen offering space just for kids to explore and learn.  “By planting and caring for the garden, and then bringing the end product into the learning kitchen, children will experience the farm-to-table life cycle of the food they eat, building healthy habits that can last a lifetime,” shares Kyle Bennett, Healthy Living School Program Coordinator. In addition to the outdoor garden space, the children will also be engaged in activities in the greenhouse, where a multitude of fruits and vegetables will be grown year round. Both growing spaces feature edible plants commonly grown in Burmese, Middle Eastern, and Latin countries allowing the young gardens to learn about the diverse cultures represented by community residents in addition to experiencing a variety of new healthy foods.

The whole complex is part of a larger community effort initiated in 2013 to raise awareness about the importance of healthy lifestyles and to provide increased access to fruits and vegetables, especially for low-income families. Parkview and seven community partners jointly funded collaborative efforts to address food insecurity and lack of nutrition education. Those efforts included the implementation of a school-based Planting Healthy Seeds, Simple Solutions and Taking Root Well-Being Program, HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living) Program, which combines neighborhood produce markets with nutrition education, and a series of maternal/infant nutrition classes for expectant and nursing moms.

Food grown in the new Children’s Garden and the greenhouse will be used in the tastings, demonstrations, and cooking classes along with produce from regional small farmers. The greenhouse will also be used as the site for a permanent Farmers’ Market location providing increased access to healthy foods within an area that is considered a food desert while also allowing families to use WIC and SNAP funds to purchase fresh produce.

“The Parkview Community Greenhouse and Learning Kitchen has brought all of these initiatives together under one roof and provides space for new programs, facilitating a broad-based, multigenerational culture shift that views healthy, nutritious food as nature’s medicine to keep the mind and body healthy and help prevent disease. The Children’s Garden is an integral part of that vision, in that it will serve as a primary location for existing nutrition- and activity-related outreach and education programs, food tastings (to introduce children and families to unfamiliar foods), cooking demonstrations, and hands-on cooking classes to help educate the community on how to shop for, prepare, store, and use fresh foods.”

Rayito de Sol Daycare Plots at Tierra es Vida Community Farm
El Paso, Texas

Rayito de Sol Daycare and Learning Center is a social-purpose enterprise founded in 2000 by the organization La Mujer Obrera to create meaningful employment for NAFTA-displaced garment workers based on community needs. In addition to providing quality care and education, the daycare serves as a training facility for neighborhood women seeking childcare experience with plans of developing home-based childcare centers. Participating children are primarily low-income and of Mexican background.  The center offers a Spanish-immersion curriculum to both affirm and develop not only their language skills but also their Mexican cultural heritage.

The Rayito de Sol garden plots are located at a near by community garden, Tierra es Vida Community Farm. Weekly, the children travel to the farm to tend their plots, learn, and play. Director Lorena Andrade shares that “Over the past three years, the children have grown eggplant, carrots, squash, cilantro, different varieties of tomatoes and peppers, and cempasúchil (Mexican marigolds), for their annual Day of the Dead altar. They also harvest and eat produce from areas of the farm tended by community volunteers. In 2018 alone, children harvested and ate over 110 lbs of produce including pecans, cherry tomatoes, and pomegranates during these weekly field trips.” The children also have the opportunity to participate in age-appropriate cooking classes that feature inherently healthy Mesoamerican and Chihuahuan desert ingredients such as prickly pear cactus, beans, corn, squash, amaranth, and mesquite.

“Our goal in 2019 is to more seamlessly merge the garden-based activities with our region’s natural cycles, the seasons of the year, and our Reggio-inspired curriculum. For instance, while we once delivered a workshop about amaranth once a year – now that the children are planting it, we can visit the amaranth theme several times a year: in the summer we explore and harvest its iron-rich, edible greens; in the fall and winter, we harvest its seeds and make atole (a traditional porridge). Another goal for 2019 is for more of the cooking workshops to occur at the farm itself, so children can learn to harvest and use the appropriate part of the plant for food. The garden becomes a key part of the curriculum because it integrates math (how many seeds to plant, how far apart to plant them, portions for recipes), trilingual language arts (names of produce in English, Spanish, and Nahuatl), biology and geography (amount of water needed, seasonal considerations), and art (seed art, drawing).”