Urban Growers Collective: Youth Corps Teen Education and Employement

Final report for YENC22-172

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2022: $4,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/15/2024
Grant Recipient: Urban Growers Collective
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Manager:
Erika Allen
Urban Growers Collective
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Project Information


The Youth Corps’ understanding of many aspects of urban farming and community food system development are reinforced and illustrated through hands-on farm instruction.  Teens cultivate vegetables, herbs and flowers across all phases of farm production. At many of our locations, Youth Corps also manage an onsite community farm stand, and provide a window into the economic and entrepreneurial opportunities within the food system. The goal is for teens graduate with a comprehensive understanding of sustainable food system development and the ability to connect and communicate how their skills gained on the farm translate to any career path they may follow.

Project Objectives:

Spring/Summer Farm Program Outcomes:

  • Teens will be exposed to career pathways in urban agriculture, culinary arts and micro-enterprise development through field trips and guest speakers. 

  • Community harvest festivals at Roosevelt Square, and South Chicago Farms. 


Micro-enterprise Program Outcomes:

  • Teens will received advanced training in micro-enterprise development. 

  • Teens will develop a signature product line using Urban Growers Collective flowers, herbs and farm products. 

  • Teens will learn how to market, fulfill orders and manage inventory of the product line. 



Progress Update January 2023


UGC is excited to share some updates around our Youth Corps programming and progress towards the outcomes and objectives outlined in our initial proposal. Please see below for an overview of activities Youth Corps participants have been involved in in our Spring, Summer, and Fall programming.


Youth Corps Participation in UGC Farm Stand Management

One example of these outcomes being worked towards in real time is through UGC Youth Corps participants’ involvement in managing our farm stands. Youth participants learned how to run and set up a farmer’s market at UGC’s  South Chicago Farm. The Farm Stands occur at programming sites, and provide opportunities for students to interact with community members through sales of produce grown by UGC and Youth Corps members. Our Farm Stands provide an access point for community members nearby our farms to engage with and purchase food directly from UGC. 


Youth supported all aspects of Farm Stand management from planning/harvests and sales, stocking produce for sales, as well as practicing customer service skills like listening and meeting customer needs. The farmstand made a total of $1,124 for the Fall 2022 season. UGC provides stipends to teens for program participation, thereby simulating real-life work experiences and encouraging program retention. In fact, rates of program completion are high, and participants often go on to complete the next season’s sessions. In addition to helping to curb program attrition, we offer stipends as a way of building youth confidence and teaching them that their work has value.


Youth Corps Collaborative Farm Planning 

Another way our teens have been gaining confidence and exploring career pathways within the food system has been through learning how to build out their own farm plans. Youth Corps participants worked in groups for several weeks researching and building their farms by pinpointing food access issues they see in their communities and creating mock programming and infrastructure to address the inequities. Their business plans included: farm title, farm logo, Mission Statements, Problems and Solutions, infrastructure designs, roles, job titles for each presenter, and budgets. Teens presented their farm visions to the Instructor, Coordinator, and each other in a mock grant proposal, with the outcome being the chance at a 32 million dollar grant to jumpstart their farms. After presentations, youth used Talking Circles to reflect and debrief their experiences creating these visions in collaboration with their peers and expressing things they learned about themselves and each other in the process. Through their Talking Circle, they decided the best outcome for all of the vision farms would be to create a farm coalition, or collective. To end the Build a Farm activity, participants got together with their respective farms to designate a spokesperson for an “International Joint Coalition of farms.” They sat in a coalition council to merge all of their farms’ missions and work to collectively address food access and climate change in the communities their farms would serve.


Youth Corps Participants take on Leadership Roles at Harvest Fest

UGC hosted a Harvest Fest this October on our South Chicago Farm site to bring community members together to celebrate the Fall season and connect with one another. Our Youth Corps participants had the chance to take on leadership roles to support Harvest Fest in running smoothly. Teens spent the day preparing the farm stand, decorating the entry ways and tables for the fest, dressing up/painting for the occasion and working together to complete the harvest of all the crops they tended to over the summer in their designated Youth Corps garden at the South Chicago Farm. Youth Corps participants took on leadership roles by acting as liaisons of the arts and craft table for the community and working the harvest fest photo booth. UGC had about seven Youth Corps participants stay after program hours to continue working the event, and all of those who stayed brought their siblings and relatives along to join in the trunk or treat and farm tours happening throughout the afternoon.  The Harvest Fest was a day for our Youth Corps to build community and deepen their understanding of the Harvest as it relates to their farming lessons from the Summer into the Fall.


Educational & Outreach Activities

16 Tours
82 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

3 Farmers/ranchers
137 Youth
8 Educators
3 Farmers participated
Education/outreach description:

Hands-on Farm Experience & Micro-Enterprise Curriculum

Under the guidance of UGC staff and instructors, teens learned the components of composting, preparing growing beds, and how to identify, plant, harvest and market the vegetables growing at the farm. Youth Corps participants typically meet for 5-6 hours each week to take part in lessons centered on urban agriculture, farm planning, identifying food system inequalities, food waste, composting, and environmental justice. 


Summer activities focus heavily on farm production, management, and harvest for our farmers’ markets. All summer long, our Farm Ambassadors helped maintain our Grant Park Urban Potager Farm. Teens learned general garden maintenance, plant history, and how to dry herbs and flowers in bundles to create salt-dry rubs and flower/herb sugars. During the fall and winter, Youth Corps programming shifts its focus to farm business and entrepreneurship, with our curriculum covering such topics as value-added products, marketing, and sales. This Fall, UGC's South Chicago & Roosevelt farm sites were activated with Youth Corps’ micro-enterprise development curriculum. Over a 10-week program, our teens learned how to process farm products cultivated on the farm during the growing season to create value-added products—from making teas & sugar scrubs to processing honey from the beehives. 


UGC’s daily Youth Corps activities aim to increase access to educational training and activities around community food systems and agriculture so that our youth have more agency in the career paths and choices available to them. 


Green Job Exploration & Build-a-Farm Workshops

Youth Corps participants had the chance to explore different avenues of options in Green Jobs through workshops and their own research during those workshops. We held a reflection circle on what those options can look like for them and their future. Youth also explored and researched what it  would take to own  and run a farm business through the “Build a Farm workshop.” This served as an opportunity to further discuss the pathways of agriculture in a community impact setting while also making way for students to gain more  insight into what it would take to come up with a business plan, and the work it takes before a business is started.


Art Collaboration Among UGC Youth Corps & Chicago Park District

UGC Youth Corps participants have been collaborating with Chicago Park District ‘Friends of the Parks’ to help paint 2 benches and 2 picnic tables for Schafer Park and the South Chicago Farm. This project aims to recognize the history of the Southeast Side neighborhood, drawing on the transformation our park and farm is contributing to from an industrial iron workers’ past to an environmentally just future. This project is aligned with the beautification work that ‘Friends in the Parks’ engages in surrounding Chicago Park district sites and is directly tied to the beautification of Schafer Park and the South Chicago Farm with the intention of creating a space where community members can gather during long days in the garden or park and teens can rest and collaborate during Youth Corps programming at the South Chicago Farm. 


Youth Corps students have been working with two local artists/activists to design and paint a set of garden benches that play on the theme of the industrial past to green future. One bench depicts an image of a large cargo ship and old work glove floating in the water underneath the large font BUILD. The other bench contrasts this with images of a prairie backdrop and bountiful harvest of vegetables grown on the farm during the grow season underneath the word GROW. The two picnic tables are playful reflections of the youth as they are seen in our park and farm, with images of the plants and habitat that they interact with while in the program. The designs were envisioned in the first weeks of Fall program during “vision circles” where the teens, instructors and artists sat together to discuss things that they love most about their community, plants, and vegetables that they’ve developed the strongest relationships to on the farm. 


The art pieces will be installed in the South Chicago Farm’s community garden in the Spring of 2023 for a “ribbon revealing day” where students, artists, instructors and community members can join for a gathering to see the benches be presented and the story behind them.

Learning Outcomes

31 Youth reporting change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness
Key changes:
  • Farm Stand/Farmers Market operations

  • Urban Agriculture (various aspects)

  • Social and Emotional Learning

  • Micro-enterprise development

Project Outcomes

3 New working collaborations
Success stories:

2024: UGC Youth Featured in Chicago Food Policy Council Annual Summing

The Chicago Food Policy Action Council Summit is held annually and includes workshops, panels and guest speakers sharing insights on specific projects and topics related to food justice. UGC Youth Corps members helped propose an intergenerational panel, and it was selected for a Friday session. The session description from the 18th annual conference reads:

"Future Proofing the Food System will require input and feedback from members of each
generation. Elders have the wisdom and lived experience inform us on the past to ensure we
don't repeat mistakes in the future, Adults have the networks, resources, and skills to propel
ideas to fruition, and Youth bring fresh perspectives on old problems and ultimately are the
folks who will carry out shared visions into the future. Join this panel to hear from a panel of
speakers sharing how they view the future of the food system in Chicagoland and beyond."


2023: UGC Youth Applying to Chicago Food Policy Action Council Annual Summit

UGC Youth Corps are applying for the opportunity to participate in the Chicago Food Policy Action Council (CFPAC) Annual Summit being held on February 10th, 2023. Youth Corps participants are taking on the responsibility to apply to be a voice for the Multigenerational Panel discussion, representing the ideals of the upcoming generation and sharing  reflections on innovative pathways towards a just and secure food future. Youth Corps participants will have an opportunity to engage with food justice activists and farmers from differing generations and be able to network with local leaders from all over Chicago, Cook County, and across the state of Illinois. Additionally, participants will take on leadership roles, gain experience in networking as a stepping stone to a future in urban agriculture work, and implement speaking/engagement skills that they were able to develop through Talking Circles and Build a Farm workshops hosted during the Fall 2022 program. 


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.