A Garden Program For Teens By Teens
St. Clair Superior Development Corporation (SCSDC) Youth Development Manager Philip Hewitt describes SCSDC’s programs as “for teens by teens... We create leadership positions for them to lead their peers and then really put the ball in their court, allowing them to make what they want to make.”
A nonprofit community development agency in Cleveland, OH, SCSDC was selected to be the lead agency for a local youth development initiative in 2010. What started as a straightforward leadership council of teenagers has evolved into a series of teen-created programs that promote empowerment and creativity. Their innovative afterschool and summer-time workforce development programs focused on cooking and gardening led to the awarding of a 2020 Youth Garden Grant.
A Garden Program For Teens, By Teens
The very first program the teen leadership council founded was an after school cooking class. “It was really simple, but really popular. They were trying out recipes they’d never tried before” says Philip. A garden program was a natural next step. “When our young people started working in the garden they kept thinking about how they could connect the space to our cooking class, thinking ‘what can we grow in the garden to have in our recipes?’”
The original garden was a modest size. “We are stationed at a community center and there wasn’t a lot of green space so we built a few raised beds in the back parking lot. Now, wherever we have space we try to put a garden,” notes Philip. And this past spring SCSDC’s garden grew significantly when they were awarded a lease from the city to expand into a vacant lot nearby. “It’s the first year we’ve been able to plant in the earth. Our hope for the land is that we can grow things that take up lots of space. In the past we’ve just been so limited, but now we can do rows of corn or have a pumpkin patch or let the zucchinis take over!”
The food grown in the garden isn’t just used in afterschool programming. Over the summer youth can participate in a cooking and gardening themed workforce development program that allows them gain professional experience in the food service sector while familiarizing themselves with the realities of holding down a job. Teens can also select from voter registration, design-build, and mural painting employment tracts. Programming lasts for six weeks and typically requires a 25 hour per week commitment.
This year, youth engaged in the “Garden2Kitchen” summer program became ServSafe certified, participated in daily garden maintenance, researched new recipes, and learned from a curriculum that, in the words of Philip, “took them through the entrepreneurial process from seed to sale,” all while social distancing.
Grant Resources Made Gardening Easier During Covid
As one of five top winners of the 2020 Youth Garden Grant, SCSDC received a $1000 customizable tool package from Corona Tools along with an assortment of other gardening materials from leading companies within the horticultural industry. “I remember when the award package came in February before quarantine—it came during one of our cooking classes and the kids were so pumped to open it up,” recalls Philip. “Having all those supplies made it much easier to run a smooth program this spring and fall, even with all the starts and stops and hurdles of quarantine and social distancing. Being able to just get outside and be in the garden, to have safe face to face time with peers, it was so important this year. Those were feel good moments, it’s why we garden. No matter what’s going on in the world, gardening is always going to deliver those feel good moments.”