As a result, in major metropolitan centers, many children grow up without having set foot on a patch of grass. The small parks they find squeezed between streets and buildings are a pale imitation of a natural world they discover only in books or on the Internet. Most public schools in the city do not even have grass carpeting their outdoor playgrounds, preferring asphalt sport courts or even rubber sheeting that is much easier to upkeep. And speaking of public schools and the food children get there and at home—well, many of them have never seen a full-sized carrot or peach, instead envisioning such fruits and vegetables as they come – diced, cubed, and/or processed – in fruit cups, coleslaw, and the like. Generations of children are thus growing up alienated from nature, unfamiliar even with the natural bounty they need for health.
Solution: Enter the Grow2Grow movement. Much more than the increasingly-common inclusion of school gardens or even church- or nonprofit-run community farms, Grow2Grow is a collaboration amongst the education sector, municipal government, local business, and community and nonprofit organizations including churches, unions, and the like. This urban farming movement creates microenterprise opportunities for youth in a disadvantaged community while teaching them professional and life skills. Grow2Grow promotes healthy nutrition, supports local businesses and the “slow food” ecological movement, removes eyesore vacant lots and crumbling buildings by turning them into green spaces, and draws together members of a community to incubate and support the urban youth farm.
How it Works:
- A municipal government donates an underutilized public property in an inner city to a school district, or else financially supports (through direct funding, or even a tax break or similar for the seller) the purchase of a piece of private land by a school district.
- Agricultural experts secured by the municipal government (perhaps professors from a state agricultural college) inspect the land and soil, make recommendations for what nutrients are needed, and lay out a plan for crop growth, rotation, and basic farm needs.
- Public school teachers chime in about how to craft a curriculum that melds farming/crop nurturing techniques, nutritional education, and basic business skills (supply/demand, customer service, etc.) in a way that will engage students. A new vocational track is created that bridges the school district’s K-12 classrooms and involves a lot of time outside at the urban farm.
- Meanwhile, discussions have been ongoing with local restaurants and food-related businesses, especially those that like to source locally or are part of the “slow food” movement, about what types of produce they prefer, use seasonally, or tend to have to import from afar.
- With some infrastructure donations from businesses in the community (gardening tools, seeds, trellises, topsoil, and similar), the physical infrastructure of the urban youth farm is built over the footprint of a reclaimed lot.
- Students of all ages start learning the basics – how seedlings grow, what they need to prosper, what makes good soil fertile. Curriculum is tied as well to more traditional school curricula, e.g. charts of Mendel’s pea plant experiments are brought in and the high school biology teacher makes a visit to talk to students. The first crop starts emerging, and students are excited. They enjoy being outside in nature and getting their hands dirty.
- Older students in high school are guided to start meeting with community members who have expressed interest in buying the students’ crops. Their teacher coaches them on customer service skills, contracts, etc., and soon enough they are delivering the fruits of their labors to restaurants and cafes they’ve passed on the street with their families or even eaten at.
- Some students decide they want to set up a booth at the local farmer’s market on the weekend. They start meeting direct consumers of their produce face-to-face. It’s kind of like the old corner lemonade stand, but with an actual consumer demand for the products.
- While many students are getting class credit for their work on the urban youth farm, some have made it an extracurricular as well, since they spend so much time there and are so involved with it.
- Another new vocational class is begun at the middle and high schools, a cooking class using many ingredients being grown at the farm.
- A few inner-city kids about to graduate from high school decide they like farming so much they apply to the state agricultural college. Eventually the college will partner a lot more closely with the school district, sending some of its graduate students to guest lecture the public school students. It will also eventually endow a scholarship program for graduates of the Urban Youth Farming project.
- A lot of other students at the public school district don’t like farming that much, but their work at the urban farm looks good on their resumes so they decide they will apply to community college after all.
- Eventually, the project scales up and another vacant lot is secured, expanding the farm’s capabilities. Another school district wants to start its own farm.
- Also, the PTA at the original school district has started a grassroots movement to have more fresh produce and healthier options integrated into school lunches, especially because members’ children have begun asking why some types of the food they grow never seem to make their way onto the menu…
- Grow2Grow has become a successful, replicable program that not only teaches students life, health, and job skills, but also draws together a community and revitalizes a deadened urban environment by returning natural elements to the built landscape!
Note: Check out http://www.chicagolights.org/cgi-bin/WebObjects/cl.woa/wa/a?p=197 for an example of a successful urban farm located adjacent to Cabrini Green, the final public housing “project” in downtown Chicago to be torn down (last building in March 2011, now transitioned to mixed-income housing). However, its efforts have largely been spearheaded and supported by a community church and its school-related efforts are co-curricular rather than integrated into regular school programming, as they would be with Grow2Grow.