Eastside Youth Service Corps: Expanding the Edible Hunter Park, Increasing Food Security, Promoting Sustainable Agriculture and Fostering Food Entrepreneurism

Final Report for YENC15-086

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2015: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2017
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Manager:
Rita O'Brien
Allen Neighborhood Center
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Project Information



    • Name: Allen Neighborhood Center
    • Address: 1611 E. Kalamazoo St.
    • City: Lansing                          State: MI                      Zip Code: 48912
    • Phone: 517-999-3918
    • Website: www.allenneighborhoodcenter.org
    • Project Title: Eastside Youth Service Corps: Expanding the Edible Hunter Park, Increasing Food Security, Promoting Sustainable Agriculture and Fostering Food Entrepreneurism
    • Project Duration: May 1, 2015 - Oct 31, 2015
    • Date of Report: February 11, 2016


BACKGROUND: Youth Service Corps (YSC), a job and life skills training program for youth ages 11-17, engages in service-learning projects focusing on food access in the northeast quadrant of Michigan’s capital city. Our current projects include:

1) Garden-in-a-Box, whereby youth construct and deliver 2’x2’ garden box kits to the homes of neighbors who have limited income and gardening skill;

2) Fruit Tree Project, in which youth map, harvest, and re-distribute fruit from neighborhood fruit trees in effort to minimize food waste;

3) Edible Park, where youth plan, plant, and maintain fruiting trees, bushes, and perennial herbs in a designated space in Hunter Park where edibles are available, free for the taking; and

4) Park Cart, a concession cart selling healthy, affordable snacks to farmers market patrons.

Our goal with this grant was to build on the successes of each of these projects, allowing for an even greater impact on the health and viability of our community, while further increasing horticultural and entrepreneurial skills of our young participants.

GOALS. Our goals included:

    • 60% of our Youth Service Corps participants will report increased knowledge in all of the following categories: crop planning, integrated pest management, sustainable maintenance practices, food safety, business planning, and marketing.
    • Edible Park and Park Cart projects were to be expanded, building on their success so that they could have a greater impact on the health and viability of our community.


To achieve our goals and objectives for this project, we created a detailed timeline that outlined project tasks. This timeline was consistently used to keep our multi-faceted project on track. We hosted regular sessions and scheduled the youth based on their availability. We aimed to have seven youth present at each session during the summer months. We hosted 5 sessions weekly, giving youth multiple opportunities for participation and experiential learning. On Monday and Friday mornings the youth gardened: in early summer they were delivering Garden-in-a-Box kits to neighbors, and as summer continued, they were working in Edible Park, transplanting, weeding, watering, landscaping and harvesting. On Wednesday mornings, the youth cooked in our commercial kitchen, preparing food to be sold at the Park Cart in our Farmers Market. On Wednesday afternoons, there were two sessions at the Park Cart, so that the maximum amount of youth had chances to learn and practice their customer service skills.

The greatest influence in structuring our project was coordinating between the availability of the facilities we were using, the schedules of the youth, and the need to get the amount of work done in a short window of time. We aimed to have variations in the type of tasks so the youth did not burn out on tasks –there was always something different to do at the next session. We used the time during our sessions to expand the Edible Park garden beds, cook a wider variety of value-added products for the Park Cart, and harvest from more fruit trees and annual plants. The variation in tasks not only kept the youth engaged, they greatly expanded their skills in multiple areas.


    • Lacey Ingrao – former Youth Programs Coordinator and writer of grant
    • Stephanie Onderchanin – current Youth Programs Coordinator, facilitator of bulk of project.
    • Zach Scott – Gardening Educator AmeriCorps member, provided gardening advice, planning, and assisted with project facilitation.
    • Rita O’Brien – Hunter Park GardenHouse Director, guided project facilitation, provided gardening expertise.
    • Adam Ingrao – MSU PhD Entomology student, taught youth about IPM and entomology in one hands-on session.
    • Wayne Lindell – Michigan certified Nurseryman, taught youth about fruit tree care in two hands-on sessions.


The youth had exposure to sustainable agriculture topics throughout the entire project, including:

    • Ecologically Sound
        • Hugelkultur- The work that they did started from a literally ecologically sound foundation: the youth constructed hugelkultur beds, a permaculture technique for creating garden beds, to expand their Edible Park garden.

        • IPM- Youth learned and utilized integrated pest management (IPM) techniques in the GardenHouse to tackle aphids.
    • Profitability- The youth had exposure to how sustainable agriculture could be profitable in their sales of value-added projects at the Park Cart. The sales of food at the Park Cart during this summer were 3 times higher than the past year, and that was due largely to moving the Park Cart to the Farmers Market, but also a large factor was the participating youth and their enthusiasm and work ethic that brought customers in, and challenged us to make new foods with our harvested herbs and produce.
    • Social Responsibility- Youth Service Corps projects give youth experiential learning opportunities about food systems and food access, and as a result, the projects are socially responsible.
        • Our Edible Park garden is located in a well trafficked public park in a low-income neighborhood in Lansing, and all that is grown is available for neighbors to harvest from as they’d like. During the summer, we’d be working in the garden and be approached by neighbors who were thrilled at all the food available for them, and would end up returning and harvesting from the garden throughout the summer. Many of the neighbors of the park do not have gardening experience, so the youth hosted Edible Park Collection Days, demonstrating to neighbors various harvesting techniques, plant identification methods, and ways to prepare the produce grown. Extra produce that was harvested was donated to the Allen Neighborhood Center’s food pantry.
            • The area of Edible Park was expanded by an estimated 40% with multiple hugelkultur beds, 2 fruit trees, and over 30 perennial herbs. Neighbors who routinely help themselves to items grown in the Edible Park have expressed appreciation for the much greater variety available, given the additional annual crops, and hugelkultur beds planted with perennial herbs.
        • Garden-in-a-Box kits were constructed and delivered to neighbors who have limited income, mobility, or gardening skill. The free 2’x2’ box kit included soil, seeds, and transplants of their choice. Youth participants enjoyed delivering the 20 box kits and instructing the new owners on caring for their small garden bed.

To measure program impacts, we tracked participation via attendance sheets, conducted post surveys, and did journaling to capture insights into the youth’s individual learnings. Throughout the course of this project, 28 unduplicated (393 duplicated) youths participated in Youth Service Corps. Our target audience was 11 – 17 year olds from the Eastside of Lansing. Most of our Youth Service Corps members are residents of the Eastside and attend Lansing School District’s Eastern High School. As you can see in the chart below, our goal to have 60% reporting increased knowledge in crop planning, integrated pest management, sustainable maintenance practices, food safety, business planning, and marketing was achieved.


Skill Area

% Reporting Increased Competency

% Report No Increase

in Competency

Crop Planning



Money Management



Customer Service



Food Handling



Food Preparation involving fruits and vegetables



Integrated Pest Management



Business planning and marketing




As the program coordinator, I learned an incredible amount about the work ethic and motivations of youth. It was a special thing to witness their hard work during the hottest and most challenging parts of the summer. The youth were motivated by specific things in their work in the garden and associated projects – a sense of gentle competitiveness drove a surprising amount of the output. Because one of the least favorite activities was weeding, we’d have contests challenging the kids who could pull the most weeds in a specific amount of time, which made them significantly more productive at their most despised task. Another great motivator of the youth was a sense of ownership. The kids who worked the hardest and were the most excited about the garden were also the ones who would bring their friends to the park and show off “their” garden. At our Park Cart stand each week, we’d make signs advertising the snacks for sale, and the kids were excited and motivated by the fact that the signs would be seen by the many patrons of the Farmers Market.  When we were selling at the Park Cart, the youth practiced their best customer service when hawking the food they prepared, or the recipes they chose. Another great motivator was their sense of kindness – we donated produce to Bread Basket, the food pantry program at our organization. Throughout the summer the kids would get so thrilled talking about how the people who came to get food would have this fresh picked and well cared for produce, that was probably better than the usual food pantry offerings. Several of the youth would harvest produce after each of the sessions to take home to their family, and the joy that they had telling me about being able to contribute to their family’s food was incredible.

The youth who participate in this project have had many experiential learning opportunities in sustainable agriculture and healthy food systems which has impacted their world view and perspectives in meaningful ways. They’re questioning in an earnest way. They’re curious about origins and causes in a holistic way that I most certainly did not possess as a teen. Because the project requires the youth to spend so much time working together, they’ve developed a strong sense of place and community. The youth all have very different interests and hobbies, so many of them wouldn’t be friends outside of Youth Service Corps and it’s a special thing to witness their relationships grow with people they didn’t think they’d connect with.

From the agricultural and quantifiable outcomes standpoint of this project, I’d say it was a great success. We grew a lot of food, and helped many neighbors grow their own. The youth learned cooking and baking techniques utilizing their own produce and they sold food at a Farmers Market to excited patrons. These results are unsurprising to me – this project and program is supported by an organization that addresses the needs of its community in thorough and thoughtful ways. This project fit fairly seamlessly into the work of Allen Neighborhood Center, and was I lucky to be able to utilize the vast array of resources and skills that the people and programs this organization offers.

For those that would attempt this project in their own community, I’d recommend collaborating with other programs or organizations to execute it. We simply could have not achieved these results if we had been a free-standing project. The huge amount of programmatic support that is gifted to Youth Service Corps is an incredible thing and makes for great outcomes and youth that are incredibly engaged.


We shared information about the project in several ways, using both in-person and digital methods. Because we sold at the Farmers Market weekly, the youth were able to use the many interactions with patrons as chances to tell about the work they were doing. During the 20 Garden-in-a-Box deliveries, the youth informed neighbors about their other projects. The youth hosted 3 Collection Day events at Edible Park, sharing information with attending neighbors about harvest techniques and ways to use the available produce. The Collection Days took place on June 26, July 31 and August 28. The June and July Collection Days each had 2 attendees and the August Collection Day had 4. Throughout the summer, we updated the Youth Service Corps Facebook page, sharing updates on our projects and the food and produce available at the Park Cart and Edible Park. This outreach was trying to communicate to a broad array of people. We were trying to encourage people to come buy food from the Park Cart, to have others sign up for Garden-in-a-Box, and to remind neighbors to harvest from Edible Park.

In the future, we are going to be more strategic about outreach, working to utilize Facebook events to encourage more people to visit the Edible Park garden. We’ve also changed our signage, painting the signs with chalkboard paint, so we can have more customized labeling of what’s in season, how to harvest it, and when the next Collection Day will be.


The NCR-SARE Youth Educator Grant program started in 2008.  As a participant, do you have any recommendations for the regional Administrative Council about this program?  Is there anything you would like to see changed?

I do not have any recommendations for this program. It has been very beneficial to our program to have the NCR-SARE Youth Educator grant and associated project that is flexible to the offerings of our program, but also gives us a goal and focus that is long reaching.


Description of Equipment or Supplies and/or Labor

Price Each or Hourly Rate

# Needed/Hours

Original Cost from Proposal

Grant Funds Spent

Youth Programs Coordinator






Total Cost (this cannot exceed the amount of your grant)






Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Adam Ingrao
  • Wayne Lindell
  • Zach Scott
  • Zach Scott
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.