City Seeds

Final Report for CNE06-003

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2006: $9,850.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Wendy Burkhart-Spiegel
Poughkeepsie Farm Project
Expand All

Project Information


CITY SEEDS aims to increase awareness of, participation in, and capacity for a healthy and just food system by combining efforts of community-based food projects in the Mid-Hudson Valley. City Seeds engages limited resource young adults (ages 14-24 years old) living in the cities of Beacon and Poughkeepsie in a project that combines urban farming, gardening, marketing, and seed saving. At the core of this multi-year, multi-faceted project is the creation of a seed bank of regionally adapted seed stock. In hands-on experiential learning projects based on urban farms and gardens, young people from Beacon and Poughkeepsie learn to grow food and learn about the food system. In youth-run booths at farmer’s markets, young people sell the food they grow, and in community events, youth share what they have learned and develop leadership skills. In learning to save seeds from plants they have helped to grow, young people draw on the generative power of the earth to nurture the generative power of urban communities.

Project Objectives:

1. Project participants gain the capacity and are given opportunities to farm, grow food, and learn farming and about the food system.

2. The infrastructure for food access in Poughkeepsie, NY is strengthened.

3. A seed bank is established with the accumulation of related skills and resources.

4. The number of City Seeds program participants and the general community making healthy food choices increases.


Materials and methods:

City Seeds is run collaboratively between the Poughkeepsie Farm Project and Cornell Cooperative Extension Green Teen. City Seeds is able to provide four kinds of opportunities, each with increasing levels of responsibility, for limited-resource young adults, . In 2006, sixteen first year youth were involved for 6 weeks in an intensive summer program. Additionally, a weekly after school project was offered on the farm April-June and September-November.

Young people who have been involved at this first level of City Seeds applied to become “Junior Interns," and serve as mentors and team leaders for the youth involved in the summer programs on the farm. A third position, Community Food Fellows, were young people who assumed even more responsibility in the day-to-day work of farming. Three fellows worked full time for eleven weeks and served as educators for the first year youth.

The fourth form of involvement was a “Full-Season Farm Intern.” The full-season intern gained extensive farm training and assumed significant leadership within the program; this position was designed for those interested in exploring community-based farming as a vocation.

During the program, our City Seeds participants experienced a curriculum that included farmers’ market training, concepts of sustainable farming, plants and insects, soil and tools, nutrition, and seed saving, in addition to hands-on farm work. The project participants also played an active role in promotion and support of the City of Poughkeepsie Farmers’ Market and Beacon Farmers’ Market as well as planning and participating in community events which educated the public about food and farming. In addition, each week throughout the growing season, youth staying at the Riverhaven youth shelter visited the farm. Interns were involved in planning and leading activities for these youth. In July, youth hosted a large public community meal, to share what they learned, and throughout the program, participants were involved in leading and participating in workshops about food, farming, and seed saving.

Seed saving is an integral part of the education curriculum, with an emphasis on the importance of a regionally adapted seed stock. Participants had the opportunity to be involved in garden work and learn and share techniques for seed saving, contributing skills and seed towards our ultimate goal of an open community seed bank in 2008. The creation of a locally based seed bank in the third year of our program will serve as a resource for participants and the broader community of vegetable growers and gardeners, who will be able to receive seed to grow out and pass on to others.

The project participants grew seed at the farm and gardens, contributing our first generation of vegetable seed to the seed bank. In 2007, our second year of the program, all participants will receive a seed packet to plant on their own the following season. In return, participants will then save a portion of their seed to pass on to another person, along with seed saving training. Participants will continue to have access to seed resources in the year following their internship even if they do not continue in the program. These resources will include a seed saving library, consultations with staff or knowledgeable project participants, and access to seed cleaning equipment. By 2008, other local growers may also participate in the seed bank by applying to receive seed, and seed-saving training, and agreeing to pass on seed and training to another person.

Research results and discussion:

Assessment area 1: Project participants gain the capacity and are given opportunities to farm, grow food, and learn about farming and the food system.

City Seeds participants included one full season intern, three community fellows, and two junior interns working at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, in addition to 16 adolescents from Poughkeepsie and Beacon High School who participated in City Seeds through the Cornell Cooperative Extension Green Teen Community Garden Program. In the spring and fall after school program, at least ten other high school youth were involved in City Seed programming, engaging in gardening, seed saving, and lessons on soil, agriculture, botany, food systems, marketing, and gardening.

In addition, youth from the Riverhaven Shelter in Poughkeepsie, Forrestal Elementary School in Beacon, and college students from Vassar College had opportunities to participate in and learn about farming, seed saving, and the food system through City Seeds programs, totaling over 150 youth impacted altogether. The impact of City Seeds expands further considering that 15 City Seeds youth participants both attended and presented at workshops and conferences over the course of season, educating farmers and youth from all over the country.

An important element of City Seeds is the opportunity for continuity and progression through the program. Each year, participants should advance to clearly defined positions in program. In 2006, both of the two Junior Interns were Green Teen participants the previous year. They served as role models and leaders during the summer program, and with the youth visiting the farm from Riverhaven Shelter. A Community Food Fellow from 2006 has already committed to the Full-Season Internship for 2007, which enables her to gain extensive experience in running a community-based farm, as well as assume significant leadership within City Seeds programming. We anticipate that in 2007 other City Seeds participants will continue for a second year in the program as well.

City Seeds maintained a busy schedule in our first year. Participants not only gained capacity to farm through hands on work in the fields at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, but also through workshops, field trips, and work in the community at local Farmers’ Markets. The schedule of field trips and workshops attended by participants in 2006 includes:

5/22 - CRAFT visit to Markristo Farm. Topic: marketing and greenhouse
5/25 - New Hope Community Day Event
5/30 - Intern orientation
6/5 - Basic Botany and Plant ID Workshop
6/8 - Youth Education Training
6/10- CRAFT meeting at Roxbury Farm. Topic: Systems, Procedures and Standards on a highly diversified vegetable operation
6/12- Introduction to Seed Saving Workshop
6/15- Youth Education and Straight Talk Training.
6/19- CRAFT meeting at Natural Roots. Topic: Horsepower
6/22- Soil and Crop Management Workshop
6/26- Beekeeping Workshop (7 additional participants outside of City Seeds)
6/27- New Hope Food Demonstrations led by interns and fellows.
7/3- Film and discussion: "The Future of Food" (6 additional participants outside of City Seeds)
7/6- Staff/Intern field trip to Turtle Tree Seeds at a Camphill Village in Copake, NY
7/10 - CRAFT meeting at PFP on "Managing a Community Farm"
7/17- Medicinal Herbs Workshop
7/18- Tour of Huguenot St Farm in New Paltz
7/26- City Seeds Community Meal, 100 in attendance including parents of youth, Vassar College students and professors, community residents, farmers and others. 23 youth participants
7/30- Farm Planning Workshop
8/5- Community Day at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project: Interns and fellows gave tours, put on a puppet show, did seed variety taste trials, sold veggies to visitors and helped with children’s activities. Over 100 community residents in attendance.
8/11-13 NOFA Summer Conference, in Amherst MA, a 3 day event attended by total of 5 interns/fellows.

Feedback from City Seeds participants was positive. In their final evaluations, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 indicating that the goal was well achieved City Seeds Interns and Fellows reported that the program achieved the following goals very well:

--Build skills and knowledge necessary to operate a farm and save seeds. (8.4 average)
--Build skills and knowledge necessary to educate others about sustainable agriculture. (8.7 average)
--Build familiarity with larger networks and resources related to sustainable farming, food justice, and agricultural education. (7.7 average).

Assessment Area 2: The infrastructure for food access is strengthened.

This was a pivotal year for the City of Poughkeepsie Farmers’ Market. Youth designed and distributed flyers and lawn signs, which advertised the market both downtown and in local neighborhoods. The promotion was effective, and the market sustained 5 vendors of vegetables and local products throughout the season. The market also became better integrated into the community. Following a Market Focus Group involving 20 community members, a grassroots group of “Friends of the Market” developed, which is committed to supporting and promoting the market in the coming season, and with youth involvement, this community group will provide a forum for the food policy component of the City Seeds project.

The City of Poughkeepsie Farmers’ Market served a clear need within the community. At least one third of customers were those redeeming Farmers Market Nutrition Coupons. There were at least two or three food stamp transactions per week. Vendors reported an increase in sales over the course of the season as the market gained more visibility. The market attracted the attention of Cornell Cooperative Extension, which became an important partner in development. The Health and Nutrition Program hosted a large event about healthy, local food for children, with 200 school children attending.

Assessment Area 3: A seed bank is established with the accumulation of related skills and resources.

100% of City Seeds participants contributed to the seed bank, through their involvement in all phases of the project, from garden planning and tending to seed harvesting and preservation. In addition, other groups of youth who visited the farm also contributed work and time to the seed garden and seed cleaning process, totaling approximately an additional 100 youth who were exposed to seed saving and its importance. The seeds saved in 2006 are the first generation of heirloom chemical-free seed for our seed bank, which should open to the community in 2008. Materials and resources have also been collected including seed storage equipment and a small seed-saving library. Significant progress has been made in developing a curriculum for City Seeds, including a total of 20 lesson plans for the spring and fall after school programs, material for workshops in beekeeping, medicinal herbs, GMO issues, soil, seed saving, basic botany, farm planning, leadership and working with youth.

Seeds saved in 2006:
Aji Dulce Pepper
Esmeralda Lettuce
Magenta Lettuce
Listada de Gandia
Clemson Spineless Okra
Sweet Basil
Sweet Reba Acorn Squash
Andover Parsnips
Brandyrose Tomato
Prudence Purple Tomato
Rattlesnake Pole Bean
Provider Green Bean

The Seed Bank has attracted interest and inspired farmers and youth agriculture projects around the country. In November, two City Seeds Junior Interns and City Seeds staff was invited to present a three hour seed saving workshop at the Heifer Project Northeast Partners Conference in Rutland, Massachusetts. Over thirty farmers and gardeners attended.

Assessment Area 4: Increase the number of program participants and the general community making healthy food choices.

In end of season evaluations, City Seeds participants reported to be “very excited” about cooking and eating local food compared to when they started the program. All program participants had the opportunity to cook and eat healthy food through weekly City Seeds. Cooking responsibilities were shared between participants, and Interns and Fellows mentored the Green Teen participants in the kitchen. City Seeds participants organized several cooking demonstrations and a large community meal to share their awareness of local, healthy foods with the community. Two interns prepared samples for and shared recipes with a local food pantry, as well as at Community Day, a large event at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, which attracted over 100 people. For World Food Day in the fall, students in the high school after school program chose unusual vegetables, researched, and prepared these for members of the CSA. Over 80 community members gained new knowledge about cooking and using vegetables from this event.

All program participants reported an increased knowledge of healthy food as a result of having the opportunity to grow food themselves, and felt that their ability to share ideas about and practice cooking and eating healthy food was “very well achieved.” One of our Junior Interns wrote in her evaluation, “One thing that I will always remember is that locally grown food is better and people out there should know about it!”

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Outreach is an important component for the City Seeds project. In order to recruit for the Junior Internship position, we created a flyer and posted it in schools, downtown buildings, and on the CSA email list. We had eleven applications for two positions, so this seemed to be an effective strategy. Thoughout the duration of City Seeds, we included regular articles about events and activities in the Poughkeepsie Farm Project bi-weekly newsletter, as well as press releases to local papers, which resulted in a few newspaper articles in the Poughkeepsie Journal, the Weekly Beat, and House Magazine. Throughout the season, workshops open to the public and community events such as our Community Meal and Community Day also allowed us to reach out to a broader audience, and educate more people about food, farming, seed-saving, and the accomplishments of youth. The City Seeds staff is currently in the process of developing a joint program brochure, as a tool for further outreach efforts.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

2006, the first year of City Seeds has been successful on many levels. A collaborative program, it is a great accomplishment to coordinate the cooperation between two separate organizations and staff—the Poughkeepsie Farm Project and Cornell Cooperative Extension Green Teen Community Gardening Program. Monthly City Seeds meetings and good communication facilitated this success.
The City Seeds program successfully filled all of the available positions—one Full Season Intern, three Community Food Fellows, and two Junior Interns, in addition to 16 Green Teen participants in the summer and numerous high school students throughout the spring and fall. Staff shared responsibility to develop and carry out a curriculum and busy summer schedule which involved food, farming, and seed saving. In addition, City Seeds gained good press through events and outreach. A Community Meal, held in July, attracted 100 community members and gave the youth participants an opportunity to showcase their hard work and new skills, while sharing the value and benefits of healthy, local food with the community. In our new farm kitchen, City Seeds participants cooked vegetables and shared recipes and ideas throughout the season. We saw a continuity of leadership and interest in the program, and at least one of our City Seeds participants has already committed to returning next year, and others have plans to move on within the field of sustainable agriculture.
Garden space grew and developed including a 50’x100’ garden reserved for seed saving at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project and an expanded downtown garden managed by Green Teen. The City Seeds Garden flourished, tended by City Seeds Youth over the course of the entire season. Sixteen different varieties of seed were saved by the youth participants. Staff and youth participants all learned how to save seeds and successfully tended the garden, harvested, and preserved the first generation of local, heirloom seeds for the Mid-Hudson Valley. Over 100 youth total involved in some aspect of seed-saving.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

This project provides limited-resource youth with skills and experience in farming within an urban setting. The participants that move through the program gain specialized farming skills that empower them to move forward in their lives as farm and food system workers and advocates, and informed, responsible consumers. In addition, the outreach component of City Seeds ensures that the benefits the youth reap from their experience takes root in the community as well. Participants in City Seeds become sustainable food and farming advocates, and even those who do not become farmers are more conscious consumers with a broader perspective on the world.

The community events we sponsored, including a large community meal, open houses, and workshops have brought a diverse range of people together, all with a stake and a role in our local food system. Youth are further empowered with their positions as organizers and leaders for these events, and the community becomes not only more aware of City Seeds as a program, but also more educated about local food and farming and the important contributions young people make to the community.

The role of City Seeds in the City of Poughkeepsie Farmers’ Market has been transformative. What has been in past years an economically struggling market, with little acknowledgement of its presence from the community, has become a growing, vibrant venue for local food and a community showcase with support from the City and community members. Connections have been strengthened between farmers and the urban community, and the myth of a dangerous downtown and unreliable customer base for farmers is gradually losing merit.

Recipients of Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupons have a reliable place to reimburse their checks and as regular customers, develop relationships with the farmers who grow their food. The community recognizes the potential of the market, and the important needs it serves by providing fresh food to the downtown community, which includes many low-income residents. City Seeds has served as a catalyst and drawn in the diversity of stakeholders’ involvement necessary to bring new optimism and possibility to the market, and profitability to farmers. As the City of Poughkeepsie moves forward with their revitalization plans for downtown, the market is seen as a valuable anchor for community and progress.

The seed-saving project of City Seeds is not only a concrete practice of an important tradition, but a powerful symbol of cultivating community self sufficiency and sustainability. The need for locally adapted seed became especially poignant to us on the farm this year when Fedco decided to stop carrying many of the varieties that the farmers at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project relied on, due to Monsanto's unethical business practices. As long as we rely on large companies, we do not have reliable sources of seed. Sharing seed saving with youth and the community sustains, an important skill, preserves heirloom seeds, develops locally adapted seed, and reduces dependency on corporations for seed. The element of ‘passing on’ generates more interest in seed saving, and ensures that the program grows and effects the most people possible. In the future, the seed bank will be open to the public- farmers, gardeners, and youth.

Future Recommendations

City Seeds is an ongoing project, which provides a succession of opportunities for youth in Poughkeepsie and Beacon. The City Seeds project created a three-year logistical plan with technical assistance from Heifer International. This plan includes the continual development of City Seeds programs and outreach for the community, as well as the integration of future projects including chicken-raising.

In December, the City Seeds staff is meeting for a two day retreat to evaluate the first year of the program and develop strategies to change and improve on the program in the future. One element which may improve upon the success of the after school programs is to offer stipends for high school students. Additionally, City Seeds has served as a catalyst for the development of the Friends of the Farmers’ Market group, which should undertake more detailed market assessment and development.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.