PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
As a non-profit that operates an urban farm that has an educational mission, we as an organization (and me as an individual) have done a lot of work with youth in the past. We run after school gardening/nutrition/cooking classes for Indianapolis Public School students and similar classes for youth and their parents. We also run a gardening class with middle school aged students in a summer camp program associated with a community center where we run our largest farming site.
This specific project was targeting four Indianapolis Public School high school students from Arsenal Tech High School and we ended up working with three students during this program. Two students completed the program, one student had a serious family commitment that did not allow her to complete the program and the last student accepted a different summer internship prior to the start of the program. Our goal with this project was a deep experience for a small number of students and that goal was achieved.
The goals of the project were linked to three pillars of sustainability outlined by SARE, which happen to be embedded in our farm and non-profit organization. The students worked with Growing Places Indy (GPI) staff and apprentices for 15 hours per week during the 6-week apprenticeship for a total of 90 hours of direct work and learning.
The Goal to Teach Farming that is Economically Viable – GPI is a non-profit organization, however our farm operates effectively as a production farm in order to bolster financial sustainability. High school students worked at our largest site that includes 1 acre of field crops, 40 raised beds, 2 all-season greenhouses for microgreens and transplants and one mobile high tunnel. Students were taught details on how to run a CSA program (and helped with weekly harvest and pick up), on site farm stand and U Pick (and helped with weekly sales and demonstrations on harvesting) as well as relationships with over 30 local restaurants (and helped with weekly orders and harvesting). We were able to expose them to the decision-making processes of how to run a profitable farm both on the growing and business sides.
The Goal to Teach Farming that is Ecologically Sound – Though not certified organic, we use beyond organic standards in all our farming practices as an investment in the long-term health and viability of our soil and farming operation. We do not use any synthetic fertilizers, and use chemical free methods for pest, weed and disease control. Students were able to experience hands-on learning about methods for soil health and fertility from us and from farmers visited on farm work experience days. Students did all the work required of our farm time farmers including seeding, transplanting, soil amending, weeding, cultivating and harvesting.
The Goal to Teach Farming that is Socially Responsible – The mission of GPI is to empower individuals to Be Well – vibrant, healthy, thriving and our motto is Grow well, Eat well, Live well, Be well. We grow well in support of the environment, so that people can eat well in support of their health, so that they can live well as contributors to a vibrant and thriving community. All farm sites are in high traffic areas to serve as an educational resource and model to the general public, in addition to individuals engaged in our programs. Students were able to meet all of our customers who cross a wide range of financial and social strata and worked with urban farms, farmers and organizations to understand the food and social justice movement in Indianapolis.
We were able to work with a staff member at Indianapolis Public Schools who is specifically responsible for helping place high school students in summer internships. This was a great process for us and the students as they were required to complete an application, participate in a mock interview with this staff member, and then have an official interview with us for a position in the program. We wanted the students to understand the professional requirements of a job search/interview and interviewed a total of 8 students for the program.
The three students worked with us three days per week – one day was devoted to farm work, one day was devoted to working on/visiting another farm or organization and one day was devoted to community outreach work in the realm of farming/food. High school students were integrated into our class of summer apprentices (10 people aging in range from 20 – 35) so that they would have the experience of working with adults across a wide age group. Basically, we fully integrated the students into the work of the farm and the organization so they could experience all the inner workings of running a small farm and a small non-profit.
The students were assigned various readings and listenings on topics ranging from agriculture to food justice to personal development and these were discussed on a weekly basis.
At Growing Places Indy, we believe what we do best is connect people and it was important for us that our high school students gain a wide network of contacts during the program. Our experience of working on a high school campus for over three years is that often students feel marginalized and disconnected from what is happening in the city and we wanted these students to have a different experience.
Here is the list of farm visits and visitors the students worked with during the summer program:
- Workday at South Circle Farm and Big City Farm – students were able to work on an urban farm with a for-profit mission to understand urban farm entrepreneurship
- Work day at Indy Urban Acres – this is a non-profit farm that donates all produce to a local food pantry and students worked on the farm to better understand issues around food justice and how to fund such a project
- Workday at CUE Farm at Butler University – students worked on this educational farm to understand the process of how a farm has been woven into the work of an educational institution
- Workday at Full Hand Farm – students worked on this 20 acre non-urban farm to gain an understanding of operating a larger scale, non urban farm
- Workday at Eskenazi Hospital Sky Farm – students worked on this farm to understanding how a farm was created at a public hospital and to gain exposure to a public institution using agriculture as a means to encourage preventive health initiatives
- Visit to the Paramount School of Excellence – students visited this institution, which is an urban charter school that has developed an agriculture program (including produce, chickens, goats and a cheese making operation) to see how agriculture has been threaded into the daily operations of a public school
- Visit to Pogue’s Run Grocer – students visited the only food co-op in the city to understand this model of retail and also to learn about how a shop such as this goes about sourcing local products
- Visit to Felege Hiywot Center – students visited this organization to experience an organization that is using agriculture to empower youth development.
Some of these questions have been addressed in the text above. Our primary goal with this project was to figure out a way to effectively engage with a small number of Indianapolis Public School students in a deep and meaningful way through an intensive summer agricultural experience. We have tried this for three years with very little success so we were extremely pleased with the results from this summer. As described above, the students took a very deep dive into sustainable agriculture. We believe the greatest measure for success was perfect attendance by all students. Though we were able to pay them each a small stipend through other financial support we received, we believe their attendance was because of their commitment to working and learning and not because of the pay.
We have had a feeling that to work effectively with high school students where we are located that we would need to focus on a deep experience for a small number of students versus a shallow experience for many students. With funding through this SARE grant we were able to spend the time to develop the appropriate curriculum for these students as well as integrate them into our larger Summer Apprenticeship Program. We learned that these thoughts were true in practice. The three students told us they were greatly affected by their experience with us on two measures.
1.) Though all students are enrolled in either a culinary or agriculture magnet program, they indicated that they had no understanding of how food grows and where it comes from (even if this is supposed to be part of their academic program). They all indicated both an increased knowledge, and an increased appreciation, about how food is grown and distributed.
2.) All students told us they feel more connected to the Indianapolis community in general, and specifically connected to work in food/food justice/sustainability. Though we were hopeful for these results, given our experience with high school students in the past, we were a bit uncertain.
The only minor change we would make to this program would be to potentially integrate the high school students into our entire apprenticeship program (they worked 3 of the 4 days per week). I would recommend to other organizations working with high school students to focus on working with a small number of students in an intense way and to try to have them work regularly alongside non high school students.
As a non-profit with a staff member dedicated to communication, activities of the high school students regularly appeared on all our social media platforms (with over 10,000 followers) and in our weekly newsletter (nearly 3,000 subscribers) during June-August 2016. Students worked each of the weekly farm stand, U Pick and CSA pickups and interacted with nearly 2,000 customers during this period. Furthermore, the program was presented to the Indy Food Council in August 2016 with nearly 50 people in attendance. There was no traditional media coverage of this project and given that the project is now over, we do not have further plans for outreach.
I do not think I have a wide enough understanding of this SARE program to make any useful recommendations.