Youth Service Corps: Addressing Food Access through Sustainable Food Systems Study ' Community Service Projects

Final Report for YENC16-103

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2016: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/15/2018
Grant Recipient: Allen Neighborhood Center
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Manager:
Josh Wald-Kerr
Allen Neighborhood Center
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Project Information

  • Project Duration: May – October 2016
  • Date of Report: January 17, 2017



This is the second year I facilitated an NCR-SARE Youth Educator Grant project at the Allen Neighborhood Center. Before this year’s grant project, and during the course of the first project (YENC15-086), the youth (and I!) were educated on Integrative Pest Management, fruit tree maintenance, permaculture techniques and vermicomposting. Before this grant project began, I had more than two years of experience in informal education facilitation and coordination, teaching youth about science, nutrition and gardening. 


In our grant application, we outlined both numerical and qualitative goals. Our qualitative goals for the project were to continue the existing Edible Park, Fruit Tree Project, Garden-in-a-Box and Park Cart projects, while guiding the program members to focus, consider and understand what the makings of sustainable food systems are. The numerical goals we set for the project were:

  • 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.
  • Between Fruit Tree Project and Edible Park, Youth Service Corps will harvest 80 pounds of produce.
  • We will engage 30 neighbors through our Garden-in-a-Boxes and Collection Days.


The work of this project was conducted in Youth Service Corps (YSC), a program that runs year-round for youth 11 – 17 years old. The goals we outlined for the grant were to continue existing projects of YSC, and to use those efforts to study sustainable food systems. The plan of the project evolved out of the need to accommodate for many factors: the inability to garden in Michigan until late spring or early summer, and the need for programming and activities before that time, the availability of youth based on their school schedules, and the coordination of using several shared sites for program sessions.

The nature of this program being year-round combined with Michigan’s cold and late springs provides the opportunity for the education and youth-led planning component of the project. In order to engage the kids who participate during non-growing months, we spent those program sessions 1) studying elements of food systems, examining how those characteristics are represented in our community; 2) planning the crops that would be grown in our garden and 3) using those crops to develop and plan recipes to be sold at the Allen Farmers Market. Once the kids were out of school, we were able to hold far more sessions a week to conduct the work tending to the garden, as well as cooking for and selling at the market.

The approach we had in planning this project was to take into account all of the continual projects of YSC and the resources available to our program and use those to devise a strategy that maintains and develops the projects, while also using them as a means to have the kids build connection to the community they live in. This is why we visited and learned about farms other than our own and worked hard to do outreach about our Collection Days, Garden-in-a-Boxes and presence at the Farmers Market.


Stephanie Onderchanin – Youth Programs Coordinator, writer of this grant

Rita O’Brien – Hunter Park GardenHouse Director, guided project facilitation, provided gardening expertise and grant advising

Alex Bissell – Gardening Educator AmeriCorps member, provided gardening advice and planning

Adam and Lacey Ingrao – owners of Bee Wise Farms who taught youth about entomology and beekeeping

Emily Nicholls – Farm Manager of CBI’s Giving Tree Farm

Ian Peters – Lansing Roots Farm Demonstration Farm Coordinator


As described in the above “Goals” response section, we had goals that were both qualitative and numerical, which means we have results of both types. The first goal we established for our program (continuing the existing projects of YSC, while helping them understand and consider sustainable food systems) was achieved. All of our projects not only successfully continued, but many also found growth over the course of this grant. Our Edible Park garden expanded in multiple ways, with more space, more varieties and more harvesting by neighbors. Our Garden-in-a-Box project delivered 20 boxes to neighbors, with the youth installing them and filling them with soil, seeds and transplants. We harvested from our fruit trees and planted two more at the beginning of the season. Our Park Cart sales at the Farmers Market were the highest of any summer yet.  The youth explored sustainable food systems, covering the topics of food deserts, accessing local produce, supply chains, organic vs. conventional growing and affordability in program discussions. Through their preparation and work on these projects, the youth learned about the attributes of sustainable agriculture as identified by NCR-SARE experientially: they used ecologically sound practices, creating hugelkultur beds, utilizing integrative pest management, and participating in beekeeping. Their growing was profitable, as they cooked and baked with their produce and sold those value-added goods at their Park Cart at the Allen Farmers Market, which as mentioned, had the best sales of any summer so far. The youth’s projects and growing were designed around a principle of social responsibility: they distributed those Garden-in-a-Boxes to low income, or senior neighbors; their Edible Park garden was free to be harvested from by any park visitor; and the youth-led Collection Days, teaching neighbors about what was growing in the garden, how to identify and harvest it, and what to cook with it.

The audience of youth we were trying to reach was residents of Lansing, specifically those in the Eastside neighborhood. I, the Youth Programs Coordinator, did many outreach visits to our local high school, which led to an increase in enrollments (as compared to previous years) for the summer season by neighborhood kids. We used pre- and post-surveys, attendance, weighing of produce and neighbor engagement to measure results. Based on surveys, 65% of our members reported feeling “knowledgeable” or “very knowledgeable” about crop planning, integrated pest management, sustainable maintenance practices, food safety, business planning, and marketing at the end of the summer. When we compared that number to the pre-survey administered in May, there was an increase in knowledge amongst 50% of the youth. During the course of the summer, between Fruit Tree Project and Edible Park, the Youth Service Corps members harvested 65 pounds of produce. The youth engaged 35 neighbors between their Garden-in-a-Box deliveries and Collection Days. Finally, over the course of the project, 40 individual unduplicated youth participated in 63 program sessions, with a total of 570 duplicated youth engaged with.


Over the course of this project I learned about the value of connection, in many ways. The participating youth absorbed so much more of what they were learning when it had a connection to something they were familiar with: the work we were doing in our projects, the way our program engaged with the community, how their family grocery shopped or sourced food. This affected my teaching by giving me a more certain context or formula when preparing my lessons: what about the topic at hand could I connect to the kids, or how does this issue or method matter to their lives? This approach has made what we’re learning a doing a lot more personal for the youth involved, which has caused them to care more, to take more ownership of the work and its results. The results were expected – these projects are established in this program, and I am given a lot of support in coordinating the completion of them by Rita and Alex, the GardenHouse Director and AmeriCorps Gardening Educator. There is a momentum around the work the kids do in this neighborhood, and the Allen Neighborhood Center is very connected to the community and neighborhood, so the success of these projects is made very possible due to all the excellent people around us. If I were doing this project again, the large majority of the work I do would remain. The biggest change would be a more targeted effort of something we are already doing, which is engaging our neighbors and community. This upcoming summer, I intend to have the youth do more of the initial outreach themselves, talking to Farmers Market attendees about their projects. If others were doing this project, I’d recommend that they seek connections like our program has been lucky to have, because as I mentioned, I think that is one of the greatest factors of our success.


We shared information about our project in a variety of ways. Program highlights are mentioned in Allen Neighborhood Center’s quarterly Eastside Neighbor newsletter (distributed to 3,500 Eastside homes) and Active Neighboring weekly e-newsletter (distribution of 2,400 and growing). Our Facebook page, “Hunter Park GardenHouse Youth Service Corps”, is active, with pictures regularly posted of our activities. The Park Cart is a venue to discuss these projects with neighbors who purchase the value-added food products. We also host the monthly Edible Park Collection Days, where the youth of YSC will lead neighbors through the garden, sharing what is available to be harvested and what to do with it. The Collection Days are promoted through community calendars, Facebook and in person at the Park Cart.

This summer, a radio spot was produced about our Collection Days on WKAR, a local NPR affiliate:

A screenshot from the WKAR article.



The structure of the Youth Educator Grant program pairs perfectly with the work of YSC, so I don’t have any recommendations for changes in it. I appreciate the direction given about sustainable agriculture, and it is a great context for me to drive forward our usual programmatic activities. While writing other grants, I frequently compare them to this grant – the accessibility of the process, thanks to the provided Word document of the application, is something I am incredibly grateful for.

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.