Grow Your Green

Progress report for YENC16-106

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2016: $1,715.00
Projected End Date: 07/15/2018
Grant Recipient: Star Credit Union
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Manager:
Kristel Renn
STAR Credit Union
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Project Information


Project Abstract
STAR Credit Union, located in the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, is situated in a food desert with limited access to healthy, nutritionally adequate food. Locally sourced produce is not on this community’s radar as a career choice or personal food option. STAR Credit Union is looking to partner with Slow Food Madison, several area farmers and associations, and the Willy St Grocery Cooperative to create a program to teach this demographic of youth about farming in a sustainable and economically viable way. Participants will learn to evaluate profitability and the implications that sustainable farming has on their community.


Project Objectives:
  1. Students will learn about the economic viability of ecologically sound and socially responsible agricultural practices.
  2. Students will create an agricultural business.
  3. Students will learn to evaluate profitability and the implications that sustainable farming has on their community.
  4. Help students find a balance between profitability and community vitality.

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:


The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, our primary program partner, made the move to become a licensed day care facility in the fall of 2016. This switch made it impossible for volunteers to interact with youth in the same manner, and it took all this time to go through the necessary paperwork and training to get this program on track. During that time, another program partner, SlowFood UW terminated their participation at the Boys and Girls Club for many of the same reasons. We have drawn from Edgewood College, which trains students for volunteer work at the club, and the Children’s Museum, whose staff are already qualified. This has allowed us to get the program back on track. We began again in January of 2018, and the program has been very successful so far.           

Grow Your Green began to recruit participants in early January, when the youth were returning to school after winter break. We started the program with six youth, a good size for the beginning of this project. Early on it was decided to allow the program to be drop-in, meaning that participants could come when they were able and did not need to attend each class. This will allow flexibility for participants and ensure anyone that wants to be involved can be.  Working with ideas of teaching and incentivizing, this program will have ways for participants to earn money, encouraging them to stay connected to the program and work hard.

The first week was spent discussing expectations for the program, as well as beginning to talk about what it means to run a business. Week two we discussed names for the business and came up with the name SEED: Sustainable Ecological Entrepreneur Development. During week two we also went over finances and participants created a budget for funds. During week three we discussed Supply and Demand, and students began to work on professional development using the book Five. This book was also a foundation to begin to discuss the mission and value statements for the company, and led to a discussion on how the business would operate. Participants decided to operate as a worker owned cooperative, with each participant receiving a share of the proceeds based on the hours they work.  The following week involved learning about different agricultural enterprises and the difference between community supported agriculture, direct to consumer sales, and business to business sales. After learning the different ways to have a business, participants created a business plan. This plan will act as a framework for them to begin to build their business. Marketing was the focus of the next few weeks, as well as determining which seeds to plant. In order to determine what to grow, participants drew on their own preferences as an idea of what consumers might want, as well as on knowledge learned about the planting season in Wisconsin. As none of the participants felt like experts, plants that grow easily and in many different types of soil were chosen. Terroir was a large factor in seed purchasing, but it was also important to consider community needs and ecological impact.

The Boys and Girls Club is situated in a food desert, and addressing the needs of the community was a motivation behind this program. Produce needed to be grown that would be appealing to the community, and be economically viable for the community and the business. Plants that require a great deal of maintenance or are expensive were out of the question, as the produce needed to be sold a fair rate for the consumer, but a profit for the business.

As the weather began to warm, it was time to think about planting seeds. An aquaponics system was built from scratch, offering another opportunity to learn, as well as a way to begin seeds indoors. Building the system offered many problems to overcome, but participants were enthusiastic and eager to learn. Finding a balance between profitability and community vitality is a huge goal of this project. Participants decided to discuss composting options with the Boys and Girls Club. Using composted materials will offer a free, easy method to add nutrients to the soil without damaging it for future years.

Participants have journals they are keeping to track their learnings; journals are evaluated after each lesson.


As program participants were building their aquaponics system, we invited other members and staff of the Boys and Girls Club, as well as community members to engage with us. We had 32 adults and youth watch and ask questions about the aquaponics system. A biology student and professor from the local university joined us to discuss the scientific side of the aquaponics.

As the program continues, we will continue to invite community members to engage with us, and will continue to share best practices we learn along the way.


Participants will learn how to maximize their budget with cost saving marketing like word-of-mouth and social media. Evoke Brands has offered to donate time to teach participants effective social media strategies. This will be immensely helpful in allowing for more funds to be used for other business purposes. Participants will alternate in operating social media accounts, ensuring each participant learns the skills necessary to be an effective social media marketer.

There is much work to be done with the program going forward. As the weather warms, plants will be moved outside to the Quann garden plot, or seedlings will be sold if there is an abundance. As produce begins to develop, participants will seek ways to sell their inventory, through CSA, direct sales, or reaching out to local chefs. During this phase, participants will learn about pest management, weed control, harvesting. As sales are made, participants will evaluate pricing and sale opportunities, again balancing the needs of the community with the profitability of the business. Pricing will be taught, as well as proper sales techniques and customer service. Counting cash and making change will be valuable lessons as well, offering real life, translatable skills for the youth. As the season continues, several field trips are lined up to meet with established farmers. Participants will learn how to create value added products and build a sustainable business. This will offer a way to eliminate food waste, though leftover produce will also be donated to food pantries in the community.


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.