Sustainable Food Production Education at a Youth Residential Treatment Center

Final Report for YENC09-022

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2009: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Manager:
Belinda Meis
Lutheran Services in Iowa, Beloit
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Project Information


Prior to receiving the Youth Educator Grant we did not focus on teaching the children who reside at Beloit Residential Treatment Facility about sustainable agriculture.

The project goals focused on two areas.
1) Youth served by Beloit will grow fresh fruits and vegetables for consumption by residents at Beloit.
2) Participating youth will learn how food can be grown using sustainable practices through composting, mulching, water conservation and pest management.

This project began in July of 2009 with a joint venture between Lutheran Services in Iowa, Beloit and Bethesda Lutheran Church. The idea began as a way to incorporate volunteers, who have a passion for gardening, in an activity with the children who reside at Beloit. The produce would be used to educate and feed the children at Beloit and offer fresh produce to participants in a local food pantry. Typically there are 40 to 45 children in the Beloit program who are between the ages of 5 and 15. The typical length of time the children remain at Beloit is nine months.

The project is a way to introduce the children to the benefits of growing fresh vegetables and fruits from an environmental standpoint and introduce them to hands-on learning. To meet the goals identified above we needed to accomplish the bulleted points below:
• Plan and construct a garden area
• Plan and plant a variety of vegetables in the garden area
• Maintain upkeep of the garden throughout the season
• Incorporate leaning activities into the garden season
• Finish the harvest season
• Identify plans for the 2011 season

The first step was to plan and construct a garden area. We utilized green space on our campus to construct a 100 x 100 square foot garden that is broken into three sections. The first section has eight 4x8 raised garden beds. The second section is a tilled area that incorporates a variety of ground plants. The third section is a 50x50 square foot Three Sisters garden. Also involved in the planning and constructing process was building a sturdy fenced area around the garden to reduce the accessibility from neighboring animals. The garden has been built to plan for long term use. The raised beds and fencing are sturdy and long term fixtures in the green space. In addition to the planning and constructing of the garden we identified plans for garden support systems, including building a composting bin housed inside the fencing to be utilized long term and a watering system. The watering system we are using is multiple rain barrels attached to gutters on a nearby shed. The overall plan of the garden is environmentally friendly including the support systems for the garden. To construct the garden, fencing, and support systems we utilized over 75 volunteers during two work days.

The second step was to plan and plant a variety of vegetables in the garden area. The vegetable list was a joint plan from both the volunteers and the children in residence at Beloit. The children were able to name some of their favorite vegetables to include in the garden, such as corn, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peas, watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, lettuce, and cucumbers. The volunteers were able list some of the vegetables that would expand the children's repertoire and introduce them to new things such as, zucchini, squash, eggplant, okra, peppers, tomatillos, spinach, pumpkins, onions, radishes, turnips, parsnips, purple carrots, and beets. To include the children in the planting of the garden an activity was held in which the children planted seeds in greenhouse type trays and were able to watch them sprout. They then labeled the sprouts and planted them in the garden. They were able to see which seeds they planted and how they grew through the season. To plant the garden we utilized three separate planting days in which some of the children and volunteers assisted in planting.

The garden committee also had to plan to maintain upkeep of the garden throughout the season. This was done in two ways, the first was to utilize garden days in which volunteers came and worked in the evenings for two hours a week to weed, harvest and distribute the vegetables. The second was to have times for the kids and volunteers together to weed, harvest and distribute the vegetables. This helped the kids to become familiar with proper ways to take care of a garden, name the vegetables that they were eating, and experience healthy relationships.

Another goal was to incorporate learning activities into the garden. This happened through the maintenance of the garden as described above. We also purchased the Iowa State University curriculum Growing in the Garden. This curriculum incorporates outdoor and indoor learning activities along with youth focused books that tell stories about plants, harvesting, pest management, and healthy eating. The children were able to learn from the curriculum taught through the activities. There were multiple attempts to begin a 4H group within the facility however; the barrier was finding a person interested in being a 4H leader. We are currently working with ISU Extension to continue that search.

Another item to plan was how to finish the harvest season and utilize the harvest. We utilized volunteers as described above to harvest and distribute the produce. We also have had volunteer space donated to store some of the winter bearing squash so we can utilize it throughout the winter season. The amount of produce that was distributed from the garden is listed below in section E.

The next accomplishment is to plan for the 2011 garden season to ensure the sustainability of the project. We have had discussions around what worked well with the 2010 season and what needs to be improved upon. We will be looking at altering the crop to incorporate more vegetables that can produce large amounts of food at a time, such as corn, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, and peas.

We will continue to have vegetables that the children can experiment with, however, those will be part of a smaller crop to be used for 4H teaching lessons. This will be a better fit to accomplish the goals of learning about gardening, and providing food for over 90 people at one sitting.

We had many persons from the community involved in the process of planning, constructing and providing garden upkeep. We also had many volunteers assist in teaching the kids about gardening and sustainability.

To plan, construct and provide upkeep we utilized over 110 volunteers. 85 of these volunteers were one-time volunteers. The volunteers were from the Iowa State University and local businesses. The major projects they participated in was constructing the raised beds, fencing, mulching, building a composting bin, and constructing our rain barrel watering system. Each volunteer spent a total of 4-6 hours on their project resulting in a combined volunteer hour total of about 340 hours.

To sustain the garden we did need consistent volunteers to participate in the upkeep and harvest. We had about 15 volunteers participate in this in a variety of ways from meetings once a month to plan and discuss, weed and harvest the produce. There was an average of 3 hours spent each week from May to September on the above listed activities. This averaged 30 volunteer hours per person.

The second volunteer need was to provide teaching activities to the children in residence. This was provided by volunteers and interns each week for an average of 1 hour a week from April to September.

An enhancement to the project that was all donations was a weather station installed on the garden property. This weather station was installed and maintained by the USDA. We collaborated with the USDA to complete the installation and upkeep of the weather station and it has been able to provide instant data for us regarding the weather, wind speed and soil temperature which is a great addition to the learning aspects of the project.

Our results were tabulated for three things; produce harvested volunteers, and learning opportunities.

It was estimated that we harvested 1200 pounds of produce to be utilized between the Beloit Residential Treatment Facility and Bethesda Food Pantry. The items harvested included corn, squash, lettuce, spinach, pumpkins, beans, peas, turnips, radishes, cabbage, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, beets, tomatoes, corn, peppers, potatoes, melons, okra and tomatillos. All of the items were counted with an estimated weight given at delivery to the locations.

The second result we were tracking was volunteer usage. The reason for volunteer tracking is to identify the number of volunteers it will take to continue sustainability and to inform the volunteers of the opportunities in sustainable agriculture. We anticipated through attendance a total of over 900 volunteer hours into the project.

The third outcome to identify was the learning piece of the garden. The youth reached were males and females between the ages of 5 and 15. There were 40 youth who participated in various aspects of the project on a weekly basis. There was no learning survey that was implemented with the project, however, it was identified that to achieve better results a 4H coordinator is a key volunteer position to have.

This has been a great project for the Beloit campus and we will be doing it next year as well as upcoming years. We received more produce than we anticipated. We also received many one-time volunteers. The changes we will make for next year is getting more consistent volunteers who can attend work days the whole growing and harvesting season.

The affect this has had on the children who reside at Beloit has been positive. Gardening is a hobby that not many of them are aware of. The process of seeing something grow that they planted gave them a new perspective on nurturing in their daily lives. This gave them an outlet for responsibility and ownership.

We shared information regarding the Beloit Learning Garden in a variety of ways. We began with informational meetings to persons at Bethesda Lutheran Church, Iowa State University, community groups in Ames, Iowa and USDA. These informational meetings outlined the project we were engaging in, the purpose and our anticipated outcomes. The purpose of these informational meetings was to educate the public and acquire volunteers. Another promotional piece used was a large sign that was donated identifying the Beloit Learning Garden and our partners. This was displayed next to the street the garden was adjacent to throughout the season. The print of that sign is attached. We publicized the receipt of the grant on our website

During the project season we utilized the local media to promote the project and what we had accomplished. We participated in two events throughout the project timeframe. The first was the Ames Water Festival in which we highlighted our rain barrels and the garden project through the use of flyers and seed packets. The second was a Business After Hours hosted by Lutheran Services in Iowa and the Ames Chamber of Commerce. In this event we also handed out flyers and seed packets. (press releases are attached)

The results of the project were promoted through reports at meetings in the Ames, Iowa community including Ames Master Gardeners and Bethesda Food Pantry. We also participated and were named an official USDA People's Garden.

Due to the large amount of volunteers, written consent by all was not given for photographs. NCR-SARE may contact us for consent should any photos need to be utilized.

This is a great project which enables communities to begin looking at sustainability in agriculture and teaching others about agriculture research and education.

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.