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Program Spotlights: 2021 Youth Garden Grant Winners

Teen students dressed in black shirts stand near a wheelbarrow full of cauliflowerLast month, KidsGardening announced the winners of the 2021 Youth Garden Grant. In existence since 1982, the Youth Garden Grant has supported school and youth educational garden projects that enhance the quality of life for students and their communities for nearly 40 years.  Here’s an introduction to this year’s Top 5 Winners:

Abraxas High School Garden — Poway, CA

Bob Lutticken is Abraxas High School’s Biology, Agriculture, and Aquaponics Teacher. Each day of the school week he teaches two classes in the school’s expansive garden that sits on an old tennis court. The growing (and teaching) space is divided into two separate areas according to Bob “Half of it is a traditional soil based garden where vegetables are grown in raised beds and watered through a drip system. The other half of the garden is aquaponics-based. We have an 8,000 gallon in-ground pond with 300 fish (tilapia), which were bred by the students in the biology classroom.” 

Throughout the pandemic, students have had limited access to this garden, but a wide array of community volunteers and school staff have tended the space. “We realized very quickly that our garden could play an essential role in the community because of the amount of food we were able to rapidly produce through our aquaponics system” notes Bob. “Every Wednesday and Saturday during the growing season we’ve had volunteers come together to work on whatever is needed to keep our growing projects moving forward.”

Even though students haven’t been able to visit the garden in some time, plans for expanded learning opportunities are on the horizon at Abrax High School. “We are currently in the process of building an outdoor kitchen within the garden space which will enable us to incorporate a cooking class,” shares Bob whose passion for garden- and food-based learning has not dimmed despite the past year’s challenges. Teaching young adults how to grow food creates a sense of pride and ownership in their own health and well-being and builds an understanding of community responsibility through the impact of using their work to provide food for the needy. It also educates them about environmental sustainability and how their positive impacts matter in the preservation of their own futures.”

Crim Fitness Foundation & Flint Community Schools Gardens — Flint, MI

Two young people show off their pink root vegetables. Their faces are obscured by the veggies.The Crim Fitness Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving community health, supports school gardens at all nine of the Flint Community Schools elementary school sites. Hands on garden lessons are provided by program partner FoodCorps to students in 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades, while those in grade K, 2nd and 4th participate in SNAP-ed nutrition classes. “Students learn about food production, nutrition, and environmental topics” through these complimentary offerings asserts Program Manager Kelly McClelland.

Over the last year while students have engaged in remote learning these enrichment opportunities have taken on a new look. “We transitioned to virtual lessons that have included garden tours, demonstrations of garden activities (including prepping the garden beds for the winter), interview videos with local farmers and synchronous planting lessons, with supplies distributed to students during the schools’ food distribution,” shares McClelland. Despite distance learning, the nine Flint Community Schools garden sites remained active throughout the past growing season. “The school gardens became an important source of fresh, local food for the neighborhoods around the school during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic over the summer” says Kelly. “School gardens were planted with familiar food and there was a clear ‘stoplight’ system that denoted when food was ready to be harvested. Green sticks marked those foods that were ready to pick, while yellow and red meant 'not quite' and 'don't pick'.”

Northern Youth Garden Project — Cannones, NM 

Three people in face coverings, plant shrubs and fruit treesIn the words of Northern Youth Project executive director Lupita Salazar, “NYP offers experiential learning opportunities to rural youth, as well as internship opportunities through art, agriculture, and leadership.” These programs take place at NYP’s quarter acre hillside farm site, which was developed 11 years ago by a small group of teens with the help of the wider community. Youth amended the sandy soil, created an irrigation system based on traditional acequia (communal irrigation ditches) and drip technology, and planted perennials, pollinators, fruit trees, a food forest and more, all under the guidance of local farmers and elders. “As a traditional agricultural community, land and seeds were offered by elders and community members to help the youth connect with each other, with the land, and with their land based heritage”

The concept of intergenerational connection, which was so formative to the creation of NYP’s growing space, permeates throughout their current programming. “In addition to job opportunities and activities for youth, we’re providing young people with positive role models in our staff and community mentors” shares Lupita. “Our adult mentors teach the young interns how to work the land and the youth then in turn teach and mentor the younger participants... Our land based culture exists on a tight-rope. To survive and continue on, we are dedicated to sharing knowledge and empowering our youth to be the future leaders in our community.”

Sunrise Community Garden by South Dakota State University Extension — Martin, SD

The Sunrise Community Garden is located within a tribal housing area operated by the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The garden space, which produced over 450 pounds of food for neighborhood families this past year, is maintained by South Dakota State University Extension and the Wild Horse Butte Community Development Corporation. The 260 square foot in-ground garden, complete with drip irrigation and a few extra raised beds, is conveniently located next to the Sunrise Youth Center and a community playground, prompting close connections between the growing space and local youth. “The garden program is designed to meet the needs of local Native American youth” says Tauna Ireland, Summer Program leader for SDSU Extension. She notes that some gardening materials (such as plant identification signage) provided through Extension are available in Lakota and that culturally significant plants are selected for the garden space. “There has been an effort to plant traditional medicinal and ceremonial plants such as sage and sweet grass, as well as traditional Lakota foods like chokeberry bushes.” 

With regards to programming, each week a group of 15-40 students in the 4th-7th grade gather after school for a Kids in the Kitchen class where they learn valuable cooking skills and nutrition knowledge. A complimentary Kids in the Garden program is slated to be added in the summer of 2021. “Youth will work and learn in the garden and be able to cook items from the garden” throughout the summer, shares Tauna. Youth will also help track the garden harvest, with the goal of surpassing this past year’s bounty, and distribute all produce for free to families participating in the program and to local community members. “Our team is proud of what we were able to accomplish during this challenging year and we look forward to accomplishing even more together next summer.”

Zion Farms & Market Inc. Youth Garden — Minneola, FL (Infinite Zion Farms)

A multiage group of people, from baby to adult, wearing yellow t-shirts saying "Black Homeschoolers Central Florida" stand in front of a thriving garden.“We are determined to make growing food a communal experience that fosters much needed conversations about nutrition and wellness, and to be a source of fresh organic affordable produce locally. Food brings all cultures and race together. Food brings people together” says Cherette Warthen, Managing Director of Zion Farms & Market Inc, an alliance of African American urban farmers in Central Florida.

To fulfill this mission, Zion Farms & Market Inc. runs a youth education program on the .29 acre urban farm. “We educate young people on farming and sustainability practices that are both appropriate for the urban farm and have been practiced for generations by black farmers” notes Cherette. Though the program youth engage in activities and conversations pertaining to nutrition, gardening techniques, beekeeping skills, and culturally relevant farming practices. But Zion Farms & Markets Inc. provides more than just a hands on educational programs: “We expose youth to positive black role models on the farm—individuals who own businesses, lead teams, volunteer ,and have professional jobs outside of their participation with Zion,” says Cherette. “These mentorship relationships are an additional benefit that can inspire and encourage our youth.”

Here the rest of our incredible 2021 Youth Garden Grant Winners

  • Biiluuke Strong Healing Garden — Garryowen, MT
  • Browne Community Garden by Edgewood/Brookland Family Support Collaborative — Washington DC
  • Ed Smith Pre-K - 8 School Urban Growers Garden — Syracuse, NY
  • Gainesway Community Garden by Exhilarating Inc. — Lexington, KY
  • Grace Early Learning Center Garden and YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge & South Amboy — Perth Amboy, NJ
  • Green and Growing Kids at the Garden By The River by Thompson Ecumenical Empowerment Group, Inc. — North Grosvenordale, CT
  • Hiram Elementary School Learning Garden — Hiram, GA
  • Horizon Elementary School Garden — Hanover Park, IL
  • House of Hope Gardening to Grow Healthy Children & Families — Stuart, FL
  • Kids Eat Healthy by the Greater Faith Baptist Church Child Development Center — Orangeburg, SC
  • Oak Hill Academy Sensory and Learning Garden — Jacksonville, FL
  • O-Gah-Pah Learning Center Garden by the Quapaw Nation — Quapaw, OK
  • Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center and Frank Wagner Elementary School Outdoor Classroom, Sensory Gardens, and Mini Garden Program — Carnation, WA
  • Palmer Court Garden by University of Utah Center for Community Nutrition — Salt Lake City, UT
  • Payslee’s Garden by Western Arkansas Child Development, Inc. — Alma, AR
  • Pearl Street Urban Farm — Sherwood, OR
  • Queen’s Green by Commonpoint Queens — Little Neck, NY
  • Radix Ecological Sustainability Center Youth Employment Classroom Garden — Albany, NY
  • SEEDS at Patterson by City of Murfreesboro Parks & Recreation Department — Murfreesboro, TN
  • St. Ambrose Family Shelter Garden — Dorchester, MA
  • St. Margaret Mary Education Garden by Children First CEO Kansas — Wichita, KS
  • Urban Harvest STL and the Flance School Garden
  • U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Erie Field Office Children’s Garden — Erie, PA
  • Valley View North Elementary School Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Garden — Hidalgo, TX
  • Zach Gordon Youth Center Garden — Juneau, AK