Our mobile youth library enabled students involved in our school gardens and the community at large to check out books regarding sustainable agriculture. The books purchased address the following topics:
- Organic Gardening
- Soil Health
- Seed Saving
- Raising Chickens
- Sustainable Agriculture Employment Opportunities
- Environmental Health
This library was available at a weekly farmers market, our Crops CSA pick up, community events, and the schools involved in our Young Urban Farmers (YUF) program. Our goal was to involve 200 children in our project during the first year.
Children were able to check out books at these events and return them in one week either to our office or the school or market they obtained them.
Since 2010, We have provided a variety of programming in schools and organizations, aimed at helping children and youth learn about growing food and making healthy choices for themselves, their communities, and their environment.
Our Young Urban Farmers program is currently active in five schools in the city. The participants are learning how to grow vegetables and how to cook what they harvest from the gardens as well as gaining important environmental education regarding the benefits of sustainable agriculture.
Our goals for the project were:
1. 200 children would utilize the mobile library in its first year.
2. Educational impacts evaluated through surveys.
3. Permanent resource list created on our web site.
Our rationale was that if children were actively involved in gardening, as in our YUF program, or passively learning about agriculture via farmers markets and environmental education events hosted in our community (ex. Earth Day), they would be more likely to take the next step and continue this education on their own by checking out books on the subject.
Using recommendations from leaders in the youth gardening education field, such as KidsGardening.org, USDA and SARE, we compiled the following list of resources.
Molly’s Organic Farm by Carol Mainor
The Organic Farm by Shawn Frost
Wiggling Worms at Work by Wendy Pfeffer
Composting by Robin Koontz
Young Chicken Farmers by Vickie Black
Gathering a Garden Board Game
Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots by Sharon Lovejoy
The Ultimate Step-by-Step Kids’ First Gardening Book: Fantastic Gardening Ideas,from Growing Fruit and
Vegetables and Having Fun with Flowers to Indoor and Outdoor Nature Projects by Jenny Hendy
The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids: 101 Ways to Get Kids Outside, Dirty, and Having Fun by Whitney Cohen
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat, Young Readers Edition by Michael Pollan
Gaia Girls Enter the Earth by Lee Welles
Show me How I Can Grow Things by Sally Walton
The Garden Game (Board Game)
Extraordinary Jobs in Agriculture and Nature by Alecia Devantier
Youth Renewing the Countryside produced by SARE Outreach
From the Ground Up: A Food Grower’s Education in Life, Love, and the Movement That’s Changing the Nation by Jeanne Nolan
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Birke on the Farm: The story of a boy’s search for real food by Birke Baehr
Stand Up!: 75 Young Activists Who Rock the World and How You Can, Too! by John Schimm
Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement by Zoe Bradbury
Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelnof
The training farmers selling at our farmers market booth assisted with the mobile library by setting it up near their produce and handling all questions the readers had regarding the book or topic.
At our other venues, staff assisted with the project.
This project taught children of all ages that sustainable agriculture is ecologically sound, profitable and socially responsible. The library included a selection of books that were appropriate for all ages (4-18). During its first year, we fell short of our participant goal. 120 children checked out books during this time.
We found that we had a much better participation rate when the library was taken to an event at a school (as opposed to community events) and our CSA pick up and therefore concentrated on these locations during the later part of the grant period.
Children within the 4-7 age group (and most often their parents) used the library more often than others, with the two most popular books checked out being Young Chicken Farmers and Wiggling Worms at Work.
Educational outcomes were very difficult to determine, as the surveys that were included with the books were rarely filled out. We were able to access some educational effectiveness through talking with the children and their parents about the books they returned; with 100% reporting that they enjoyed the read. Evaluations of this kind indicated that the children and/or parents desired more video material. For this reason, we purchased some DVDs to include in our library as well as some curriculum material for our activities with the schools that were recommended by the school staff.
The new additions to the library are:
Whats on Your Plate (DVD)
Good,Clean, Fair by Andrew Nowak
Slow Food USA’s School Garden Guide
Youth Farmers Market Handbook by Denver Youth Farmers Market Coalition
Once the list was final, we published the resource list on our web site: www.communitycrops.org
The project proved that the desire to learn about sustainable agriculture is strong in the children in our city. Although the outreach wasn’t as broad as we expected, we found that the young readers that did participate really enjoyed the books. We did not have many children ages 13-18 participate in the project and hope to find ways in the future to engage this age group. If the project were to be replicated, I would recommend a more thorough follow-through when evaluating educational effectiveness via calls and emails to the children and/or parents.
Our mobile library project was advertised in our weekly e-newsletter 6 times during the course of the year. Many users also became aware of it during our weekly farmers market while buying produce at our stand. Roughly one-third of our readers checked material out during this market or our Crops CSA pick up and the remainder utilized it at their schools. The larger community events did not attract anyone to check any books out so our future outreach will concentrate on the other venues.