Our project introduced the concepts of sustainable agriculture and its impacts on our environment, economy, and community to students and teachers through on-site educational gardens and activities at schools and community organizations. We helped each educational site develop curricula plans for gardening, entrepreneurship and value-added enterprises, along with strategic planning for personal and community objectives. Family farmers were also introduced into program activities. Additionally, we created a regional network of schools and community organizations that are exchanging information on innovative programs and curricula, disseminating information to other educators and community leaders, and promoting sustainable agriculture education for young people.
1.) Introduce the concepts of sustainable agriculture and its impacts on our environment, economy and community to students and teachers by establishing on-site educational gardens at pilot schools and in community gardens in six states.
2.) Integrate local family farmers — especially limited resource farmers — and other agriculture professionals into educational activities at these schools and gardens through the development of hands-on curricula for science, mathematics, literacy, economics, social skills, history and art based on sustainable agriculture activities. These farmers and professionals will be introduced to students as role models for viable career paths and occupational choices.
3.) Create a regional network which could expand to a national network that promotes sustainable agriculture education for young people by establishing linkages between the participants so they can communicate with and learn from each other.
4.) Disseminate program results to other educational professionals and agricultural information providers so successful programs can be adapted in other school systems and educational settings
Background of the Problem
We live in a time when the number of farmers — especially limited resource and minority farmers — is rapidly declining, while those still in business are growing older. High school students seldom, if ever, see farmers and other members of the agriculture profession in career day programs or as role models to emulate. Few young adults today are choosing farming as a career path and land stewardship as a career goal (USDA 1994; GAO 1993). With a dwindling and aging farm population, the average United States citizen is less connected to the source of his or her food, fiber and fuel made from agricultural products. Increasingly, consumers who have the potential to influence greater adoption of sustainable agricultural practices are held back by their lack of direct experiences. Legislators, community leaders and voters are often unprepared for public decisions that impact the course of agricultural sustainability (ie: funding for research and education, land use provisions, and food safety laws) because they are unfamiliar with the underlying issues.
In order to enact community-wide, institutional change to a more sustainable agricultural system and to ensure a steady supply of new stewards entering the field of agriculture, we need to integrate sustainable agricultural activities into our educational institutions and community garden programs. To be most effective, the educational programs should engage students at an early age and include hands-on learning experiences (Eliason and Jenkins 1994). These experiences should continue through high school to set the stage for life-long learning. After interviews with agricultural education administrators and educators in Montana, the Alternative Energy Resources Organization concluded that “effective educational programs must be directly related to practical living experiences, and provide hands-on ways to learn, think and adopt that information directly into [the students’] lives” (AERO 1996).
The natural centers for this educational process are gardens — whether at school or in the community neighborhood. An on-site garden can provide the most effective education not only for sustainable agricultural principles, but also for math, science, literacy, social skills, art, motor development and music (Isbell 1995). “Through gardening, children actively learn about interdependent plant and animal needs, about complex natural cycles and webs, and about their own roles as responsible caretakers. These experiences lay the groundwork for making responsible environmental choices as adults” (Ocone and Pranis 1990).
In Charleston, South Carolina, a program begun in five elementary schools taught mathematics and science using gardening as its focus. With assistance from two organic farmers from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, the children created several types of gardens. This program was developed by Savanah E. Williams for the College of Charleston Community Service Office and School of Education with collaboration from the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SAWG).
“The hands-on gardening connected the children to their family and community members who gardened and worked on the farms,” said the Principal/Administrator of the program. “They saw the farmers as doing real work and they learned so much from them that children in Grade 3 are interested in internships with the farmers’ market. It was so exciting and effective in teaching children not only science and mathematics, but other subjects as well, that we would like more training so that we can use all of our school ground for gardening” (Roots and Shoots 1997).
Other programs that use sustainable gardening as the basis for youth education have also been initiated around the southern U.S. The Dunbar Garden Project in Little Rock, Arkansas has exposed thousands of elementary and junior high school students to activities in an on-site garden for the past ten years. Linda Brown, Principal at Dunbar Magnet Junior High School wrote to the Little Rock Department of Parks and Recreation, “The garden has given our students a myriad of important experiences. Popular examples are 1) the “salad days” in April and May when each class gets to pick lettuce that they have planted and tended from seeds. They then wash it, spin it dry in pillowcases (demonstrating centrifugal force), make salad dressing using herbs from the garden, serve it up…, and then sit down amidst spring flowers to eat their schoolwork. 2) The Garden staff has hired some of our “at-risk” students to tend the garden in an enriched work program” (Brown 1997).
The Sustainable Food Center (SFC) in Austin, Texas has been teaching sustainable gardening to at-risk, minority teenagers from Del Valle High School as part of their youth program. After they improve their school performance, students spend one or two semesters completing an internship at the SFC urban farm as an on-the-job training experience. They grow crops using sustainable practices, then harvest and market their produce. In 1997, three of the students managed farmers’ markets in Austin’s low-income Eastside and Montopolis communities. Another handled produce sales to other markets and restaurants.
As these programs demonstrate, educational experiences can be tailored to all ages of students from pre-schoolers to high school seniors with the garden as a learning center. Planting, watering, cultivating, harvesting and eating vegetable crops are just a few of the activities available. Whole garden planning, crop rotations, plant physiology, integrated pest management, soil properties, alternative crop production, the development of value-added enterprises, and marketing can all be explored by the students. Even though the quantity of production may be small, it is the pleasure and excitement of eating one’s own produce that will be remembered by the pre-schooler, while first-hand experience in an entrepreneurial enterprise may spark a new career path for the older students.
Another essential ingredient to creating a dynamic learning experience is the local family farmer. By integrating family farmers — especially limited resource farmers — into the learning environment, students will have the opportunity to see these men and women as role models. By incorporating their basic knowledge into the curriculum, the farmer’s presence can help accelerate scientific and social environment skills for students. Furthermore, with all of the emphasis in education today on “school to work,” students gain direct exposure to a work environment when the farmer joins them in the garden and in the classroom. Students gain the opportunity to see the full circle of production which includes marketing value-added products. Value-added enterprises created by the older students can also teach them how to develop self-employment opportunities.
Gardening in curriculum development is a large part of the literature for grades K-5 with the other grades extending the learning to environmental science. Kostelnik, Isbell and Eliason discuss the role of gardening and provide a wide variety of materials that are standard for the foundations of learning about plants, animals and occupations. Jaffe and Appel have recently presented a curriculum approach for science using classroom gardens. Methodology is extensive in the materials of the National Gardening Association (Ocone) and the American Horticulture Society proceedings with demonstrations at the latter’s annual symposium for the past four years.
The relationship between the environment and the importance of children learning about their roles and options is discussed by Moore and Hart. The body of literature on this topic is extensive, including materials available for various observances such as Earth Day and recycling days locally, nationally, and internationally. Horst, Moore, Hart, Lawson and AERO all discuss the integration of daily learning with the emphasis on students developing habitats on their campuses and learning about careers.
One of the newest areas of literature is on gardening as therapy. Sarver, Eberbach, Sebba, and Roots and Shoots discuss this aspect. Specific evidence of gardening programs changing the lives of at-risk youth is cited in the Roots and Shoots Annual Report and from National Geographic on the Food From the Hood Program.
The oral histories which are being presented in various forms at conferences and in autobiographies are growing. Two recent regional conferences in South Carolina utilizing the literature of May and Francis have highlighted the importance of early childhood exposure to gardening.
Internationally, Horst, Nyang’oro, Rogerson and Gefu define the importance of positive images in comparisons of the differences in the role of agriculture in the lives of children. They also discuss the effects of labor laws on the the lives of children in agriculture. Finally, Lucas offers excellent examples of how to connect land use and education from England.
Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO). 1996. Sustainable agriculture youth education: Professional development for youth program leaders & educators. Proposal to the Western SARE Professional Development Program.
American Horticulture Society. Proceedings of the children’s gardening symposium. 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997.
Brown, Linda. 1997. Letter to Bill Bunten, Little Rock Department of Parks and Recreation, September 16.
Cobb, E. 1976. The ecology of imagination in childhood. Columbia University, New York.
Eberbach, C. 1992. Children’s gardens: The meaning of place. In The role of horticulture in human well being, ed. D. Relf. Timer Press, Portland.
Eliason, Claudia and Loa Jenkins. 1994. A practical guide to early childhood curriculum. Merrill of Macmillan College Publishing Co, New York.
Francis, Mark. 1990. The everyday and the personal: Six garden stories. In The meaning of Gardens, ed. M. Francis and R. Hester. MIT Press, Cambridge.
Gefu, J.O. 1992. Part-time farming as an urban agriculture survival strategy: A Nigerian case study. In The rural-urban interface in Africa: Expansion and adaptation, ed. J. Baker and P.O. Pedersen. Centre for Development Research, Uppsala.
Government Accounting Office. 1993. Farm finance: Number of new farmers is declining. GAO, May.
Hart, R. 1994. Children’s role in primary environmental care. Childhood, vol. 2: 92-102.
Horst, Shannon, Colleen Lowe Morna, and Davidson O. Jonah. 1995. Educating our children to be farmers. Children’s environments, theory, research, policy, and application, children gardens and children in farming, vol.12 (1): 193.
Isbell, Rebecca. 1995. The Complete Learning Center Book. Gryphon House. Beltsville, MD.
Jaffe, Roberta and Gary Appel. 1990. The growing classroom: Garden based science. Addison-Wesley Innovative Division, New York.
Kostelnik, Marjorie J., ed. 1991. Teaching young children using themes. Goodyear Books, Glenview, IL.
Lawson, Laura and Marcia McNally. 1995. Putting teens at the center: Maximizing public utility of urban space through youth involvement in planning and employment. Children’s environments, theory, research, policy, and application, children gardens and children in farming, vol.12 (1): 209-221.
Lucas, Bill. 1995. Learning through landscapes: An organization’s attempt to move school grounds to the top of the educational agenda. Children’s environments, theory, research, policy, and application, children gardens and children in farming, vol.12 (1): 233.
May, Lee. 1995. In my father’s garden. Longstreet Press, Atlanta.
Moore, Robin C. 1995. Children gardening: First steps towards a sustainable future. Children’s environments, theory, research, policy, and application, children gardens and children in farming, vol.12 (1): 223-224.
National Geographic. 1995. It’s only natural. National Geographic World, April: p. 24.
Nyang’oro, J.E. and T.M. Shaw, eds. 1992. Beyond structural adjustment in Africa: The policy economy of sustainable and democratic development. Praeger, New York.
Ocone, Lynn and Eve Pranis. 1990. The national gardening association guide to kids’ gardening, a complete guide for teachers, parents and youth leaders. John Wiley and Sons, New York.
Rogerson, C.M. 1993. Urban agriculture in South Africa: Policy issues from international experience. Development South Africa, 10 (1): 34-44.
Roots and Shoots Schools of Good Food. 1997. Growing together in Charleston. Annual report of the Roots and Shoots Schools of Good Food Mathematics and Science Gardens Program.
Sarver, M. 1985. Agritherapy: Plants as learning partners. Academic Therapy, vol. 20 (4): 389-396.
Sebba, R. 1991. The landscapes of childhood: The reflection of childhood environment in adult memories and in children’s attitudes. Environment and behavior, vol. 4: 395-422.
United States Department of Agriculture. 1994. Farm numbers and land in farms. USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. July.
The foundation for this program was initiated by Savanah E. Williams with the children of family and friends at South of the Ferry Farm, her family’s farm in Surry, VA. While many Black adults had turned away from farming because they associated it with forced work in fields, Ms. Williams observed that Black youth enjoyed gardening activities when given a free choice to participate. At a time when Black families were losing their farms at an alarming rate, she wondered if this appreciation of farming could be fostered in a new generation of Black youth. Ms. Williams began to design a program to observe the attitude of youth in at least two different types of hands-on gardening settings: 1) structured and institutionalized, and 2) community-based with options to participate.
In the first phase of the program, gardening activities were incorporated into school curricula in six Charleston, SC elementary schools. Dr. Wayne Patterson, Dean of the College of Charleston Graduate School and Vice President for Professional and Community Service Programs, along with Dr. Virginia Bartel of the School of Education at the College of Charleston, introduced the concept to the elementary schools. Felder Freeman and Robert Murray, two African-American farmers from the Sea Island Farmers Cooperative and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, were recruited to bring real farming expertise to the project.
Evaluation of the program in Charleston indicated a tremendous interest in developing hands-on gardening activities in a basic school curriculum and community gardening program. This feedback encouraged those involved to expand the program to a regional level. At this point, Southern SAWG was asked to take on the program as one of their priorities and give it organizational support.
Under Southern SAWG, this project began working with organizations and schools at six pilot sites around the South. Through the coordination of Ms. Williams, we worked with them on assessing program needs, and facilitated strategic planning and planning for economic independence. We challenged each group to develop five-year plans so their programs would have a solid foundation of support and goals to guide them.
We facilitated development of lesson plans and curricula that would incorporate sustainable gardening. We provided linkages between programs to enhance educator-to-educator learning, youth-to-youth learning, farmer-to-youth learning, and intergenerational learning. Drawing on the resources of Southern SAWG, we also helped each pilot site include principles of sustainability and linkages with farmers.
From the start, we received inquiries from other organizations and institutions who were interested in communicating with us and learning from this project. We quickly expanded the early pilot group and began to develop a regional network of youth education programs focused on sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship.
As the network grew, we provided workshops and trainings for youth and adults at five Southern SAWG conferences. We also helped to develop a youth track at other sustainable agriculture events such as the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Annual Conference and the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture’s annual meeting. We provided specialized training on strategic planning for youth and adults at a weekend workshop in Meridian, MS in 2001. Because of the high demand for training and education components, we also provided general training in conference planning and implementation, and trained youth to organize their own activities at conferences.
We developed youth leadership in the network through activities such as an internship program at the Southern SAWG annual conference, and advocated for youth inclusion in other organizations and activities within the sustainable agriculture community. We provided linkages to USDA, America Corps, and other national organizations and agencies. Because of the high visibility of this project, we were recently asked to participate in the development of a program for the first national Black land trust.
Original pilot sites that participated in the Southern SAWG youth network:
1.) Fraser, Memminger, Mitchell, Sanders-Clyde, and Simmons Elementary Schools, Charleston, SC with Federation of Southern Cooperatives and College of Charleston.
2.) North Chatham Elementary School, Pittsboro, NC with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.
3.) Gibbs Magnet Elementary School and Dunbar Magnet Jr. High School, Little Rock, AR with Dunbar Garden Project and local farmers.
4.) Livingston Jr. High School, Sumter Co, AL with Federation of Southern Cooperatives Training Center.
5.) Del Valle High School, TX with Sustainable Food Center.
6.) Virginia Male Adolescent Network and Surry Office on Youth, Surry, VA with local farmers.
Additional programs that participated in the Southern SAWG youth network or are in discussion with us:
7.) Alabama Latin American Association, Auburn, AL.
8.) Atlanta Urban Gardeners.
9.) Birmingham (AL) Urban Gardeners.
10.) Down to Earth, Wendell, NC.
11.) Earthfood Farm, Upper Marlboro, MD.
12.) Florida Organic Growers Neighborhood Nutrition Network, Gainesville, FL.
13.) Forkland (AL) Youth Group and the West Alabama Farmers Association.
14.) Gardeners Inc, Charleston, SC.
15.) Green County (AL) Self-Help Youth Group and the Green County Self Help Association.
16.) Jasper County (GA) 4-H Club.
17.) Jenkins Family Farm, King Mountain, KY.
18.) John’s Island (SC) Elementary School.
19.) Lincoln County (KY) Schools.
20.) Mark Twain School, Rockville, MD.
21.) McCray Youth Gardeners, Metter, GA.
22.) Mississippi Engaging In Green Agriculture (MEGA), Shelby, MS.
23.) MOWA Reservation, Mount Vernon, AL.
24.) Nashville (TN) Community Gardeners.
25.) New Orleans Youth Gardeners.
26.) Newport News Boys and Girls Club, VA.
27.) Reid Elementary School, Richmond, VA.
28.) Retired Educators for Agricultural Programs (REAP), Oklahoma.
29.) Sandra Simone’s Youth, Talladega, AL.
30.) Stewart Elementary School, Petersburg, VA.
31.) Surry County, VA Youth Program.
32.) Taylor Community Association (AL) and Heifer International.
33.) Vena Family Gardeners, Little Rock, AR.
34.) Youth Gardeners of Hampton Road, VA.
Each local program participated in the Southern SAWG youth network at a different level according to their needs. Some programs and individuals participated for a single event, a year or several years, while others, such as the Sustainable Food Center and Fraser Elementary School, have been active throughout this project.
While some local programs had already established gardening or agricultural activities, the whole concept of sustainable agriculture was new to others. We tried to meet each program at their point of need. Besides planning, training, networking and curricula development, activities that we fostered for local programs included building a greenhouse, participating in farmers markets, and hosting garden tour days.
All program activities were coordinated by Savanah E. Williams with support from Jessica Foxx of the Beat Four Cooperative and Felipe Camancho of the Sustainable Food Center. Keith Richards participated in administration of the program and in dissemination of information. Oversight and evaluation was provided by the youth sub-committee of Southern SAWG: Felder Freeman of the Sea Island Farmers Cooperative, Jay Fulbright of Arkansas Natural Produce, Marty Mesh of Florida Organic Growers, Helen Vinton of Southern Mutual Help Association, and Hollis Watkins of Southern ECHO.
This project has flourished far beyond our original objectives. To date, we have worked with 29 local programs in 12 states to help establish on-site gardens or other educational activities that incorporate aspects of sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship for youth. Currently we have 17 programs active in our network, with a total of over 1,000 youth involved. We also have ongoing discussions with 10 more programs.
The diversity of participants based on age, gender and ethnicity has provided an exciting environment for learning. The network includes urban and rural communities of youth from elementary to college age, parents, small family farmers, teachers, university extension agents and professors. University students from public and private institutions have participated in our internship program and several have worked with us for 2-3 years.
Perhaps most exciting is the fact that more than 90 percent of the youth in the network are from Black communities in urban and rural areas. At a time when many family farmers are going out of business and Black family farmers are losing their land at a rapid rate, this participation gives us hope for the future.
Our program coordinator, Savanah Williams, personally visited every site, in most cases more than twice, to provide planning assistance and development expertise. This hands-on assistance was critical to gauge the capacity of each program and identify their needs. It also helped establish trust and communication between members of the network.
Individual programs developed site appropriate lessons plans and used existing published materials for teaching gardening. Hands-on activities were involved in sustainable garden planning, planting, maintenance, harvesting, and marketing of produce, as well as building a greenhouse from scratch, not a kit.
At each site, we facilitated linkages with local family farmers and other agricultural professionals throughout the sustainable agriculture community. We also established communication and collaboration among groups through meetings, conference calls, sharing of resources, and networking at the annual Southern SAWG Youth Conference.
Over 220 representatives from youth programs have attended trainings and workshops at the past five Southern SAWG youth conferences. Workshop sessions were led by both adults and youth, giving young people the opportunity to develop teaching skills and practice leadership. As an example of the learning that took place, our 2001 conference focused on building community. The youth were exposed to many aspects of sustainable agriculture and sustainable communities. Besides specific workshop sessions on farming and gardening activities, they also met adult leaders from the sustainable agriculture community and were given the chance to learn about possible career opportunities. The co-coordinators of the youth conference — Felipe Camacho and Jessica Foxx — gained valuable leadership experience. Felipe was voted onto the Southern SAWG Board after the conference.
Youth and adults have been trained to do workshops for each other in their respective communities and at the annual Southern SAWG Conference. Additional workshops for farmers have been developed around: 1) how to involve youth education curriculum in a farm program, 2) how to include youth educational visits to farms as a business, and 3) future workshops with youth and adults discussing community development and small family farming.
Exchange site visits were made between groups in Alabama and Mississippi, and a four part Sustainable Development for Strategic Planning Component was developed to serve the needs of the participants. To begin this process, we organized a strategic planning and development meeting for youth and educators in Meridian, MS in August 2001. Over 95 youth and adults attended this meeting, getting a chance to develop relationships with each other, participate in team-building exercises, learn more about sustainable agriculture through a field trip, and learn about strategic planning in educational sessions.
We expect to build upon this meeting by organizing summer conferences for youth beginning in 2003. All the while, we are helping prepare youth to take the lead in each of these activities.
We have participated in four meetings of the USDA Small Farm Commission, with the following results: 1) development of a greenhouse program for network participants and beginning farmers, 2) linkages to the Farmers Market Nutrition Program to provide fresh produce to seniors and to the Farm to School Program to provide local produce to the food services division of schools, and 3) discussion on a program to educate youth of agricultural migrant workers. Ms. Williams is also communicating with other people within the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop relationships that will help facilitate extensive networking among these sustainable agriculture youth education projects both within the Southern region and beyond.
We ran a series of articles in our newsletter, Southern Sustainable Farming, that highlighted the work of several successful programs and provided information for other organizations. Besides an overview of our program work, we highlighted programs run by the Beat Four Cooperative, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and Heifer International. A book on the program is currently under production.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Education and Outreach Programs and Events
Southern SAWG annual youth conference, Jekyll Island, GA, January 1999:
Eight workshops and learning activities, including sharing of ideas and activities between representatives from pilot sites.
Southern SAWG annual youth conference, Jekyll Island, GA, January 2000:
15 workshops and learning activities, including sessions on marketing produce, creating value-added desserts, business planning, and on-site gardening.
Southern SAWG annual youth conference, Chattanooga, TN, January 2001:
26 workshops and learning activities with a theme of “Building Community,” including introduction to architecture, social and sustainable principles; a career information breakfast; and numerous hands-on gardening lessons.
Strategic Planning Workshop, Meridian, MS, July 2001:
Ten workshops and learning activities, including team-building exercises, a field trip to a sustainable farm and a civil rights museum, and specific training in strategic planning.
Southern SAWG annual youth conference, Chattanooga, TN, January 2002:
15 workshops and learning activities, including presentations by many of the programs involved in the network, and specific workshops on rabbit production, and personal and business financial planning, among others.
Southern SAWG annual youth conference, Mobile, AL, January 2003:
15 workshops and learning activities, including how to use GIS equipment, table-top gardening, how sustainable agriculture can contribute to building communities, and many examples of hands-on gardening activities.
Building a Region-wide Network for Education Programs. Southern Sustainable Farming, Fall 1999, pp.9. Southern SAWG, Elkins, AR.
Richards, Keith. Creating Sustainable Ag Curricula for Youth Education. Southern Sustainable Farming, Summer 2001, pp.4-5. Southern SAWG, Elkins, AR.
Richards, Keith. Beat Four Youth Program Teaches Many Skills as Components of Sustainable Ag. Southern Sustainable Farming, Fall 2002, pp.4. Southern SAWG, Elkins, AR.
Richards, Keith and Katy Elliott. Alabama Youth Learn Farm and Community Skills in Partnership with Heifer International. Southern Sustainable Farming, Summer 2002, pp.2-10. Southern SAWG, Elkins, AR.
Williams, Savanah. Another Generation Develops Awareness of Sustainable Agriculture. Southern Sustainable Farming, Fall 2000, pp.4-5. Southern SAWG, Elkins, AR.
A book on the program is currently under production. It will include pictures and accompanying videos, as well as various components of curriculum writing for school and community gardening with examples of lesson plans, outreach strategies, funding proposals and budgets. There will be discussions of the benefits of participating in a network for individuals and organizations, and of the life-long skills that participants are learning from each other and older adults in this community. The chapter on community resources — both individuals and institutions — will reveal the depth of commitment and assistance for the development of youth and the wonderful responses from the youth.
Our regional network has already provided opportunities for hundreds of youth and educators to escape isolation and learn from each other. Beyond the sheer exuberance of sharing ideas, the network is also creating a web of mentors to teach sustainable gardening, farming and marketing to youth and adults who are new to the concepts. Successful small family farmers have become the friends and partners of educators. Young people have been introduced to numerous leaders of the sustainable agriculture movement, and have been given internship opportunities. Contacts have been established between youth organizations for regional marketing of sustainably grown products across state lines.
By promoting youth education through sustainable gardening and strengthening the programs in our region, we are increasing the understanding and support for sustainable agriculture among the general population. A greater number of youth are beginning to understand the concepts and practices of sustainable agriculture, giving them the tools to make wise decisions as future voters and consumers. In addition, by showcasing the career opportunities available, we are building a larger pool of young adults who will consider entering the field of sustainable agriculture either as producers or support personnel.
Evaluations from our annual conferences indicate that attendees are pleased with the youth education track. In the past year, high ratings were given to 95 percent of all workshops, with the other workshops receiving average rating. The conference has also grown in youth participation. At our first youth conference in 1999, all workshops were led by adults with 15 youth participating. By 2001, there were two tracks of workshops led by youth with as many as 100 youth and adults participating in one of the youth-led workshops.
The demand for participation in the youth network far exceeds the resources presently available and continues to grow. The cost for program coordination of the network with administrative assistance as of January, 2003 exceeded $175,000 beyond SARE grant funds. In addition, $350,000 of in-kind time and resources were provided to the overall program in the first five years.
Business knowledge has been gained by participants in the network along with sustainable agriculture and environmental education.
The selling of local produce and value added products from youth gardeners and the development of regional cooperation can have a long-term impact on the economics of communities. When youth are growing food for themselves and their families, this reduces the amount of money spent at the market. Gardening skills learned as a youth can continue to be used throughout life.
Communities can continue to learn how to develop small businesses associated with their gardening and diverse land use, such as developing a part of the land for the building of homes and selling produce from the other part of the land to the new homeowners. Enterprises like this could help retain young people in their communities.
Furthermore, participants in the youth network can link with Southern SAWG’s sustainable agriculture enterprise development project to incorporate value-added processing into their activities.
The youth gardeners are slowly learning the differences and benefits in row crop versus raised bed production based on the amount of land needed, water usage, labor, as well as seasonal production based on the use of greenhouse. Because many of them are gardening for the first time, they are benefiting from learning sustainable practices early in their production career. Youth working with livestock are being introduced to the 12 Aprils Program developed by Tom Trantham of South Carolina as one example of sustainable practices. Trantham’s successful grazing program for his dairy farm was supported by a SARE grant.
Areas needing additional study
While this program is introducing another generation of youth to small family farmers and the concepts of sustainable agriculture, we still need additional support for those youth and young adults who choose farming as a career. We need beginning farmer and transitioning farmer support programs in our region for: 1) young people who wish to start farming, 2) commodity and row crop farmers who wish to transition to produce and alternative crops, 3) farmers who were involved in the Black Farmers suit against USDA and are now wanting to bring another generation onto their farms, and 4) adults who have been hobby farmers, but now wish to produce food for their communities.