Bridging the gap: Connecting youth, farms and communities

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2007: $9,994.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $3,998.00
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Sara Porth
University of Vermont Extension


  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Fruits: melons, berries (brambles)
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cucurbits, eggplant, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: mentoring, workshop, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture
  • Pest Management: biological control, field monitoring/scouting, mulches - killed, mulches - living, physical control, mulching - plastic, row covers (for pests), traps
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, employment opportunities, community development

    Proposal abstract:

    In Windham County, Vermont, we are lucky to have an abundance of local farmers growing a wide array of fresh fruits and vegetables. However, despite the apparent availability of fresh, locally-grown produce, a large segment of the population is still not buying locally-grown food, whether due to a perceived economic barrier or a lack of information. As a result, a divide still exists between farmers and those members of the community who stand to benefit the most from their products. This divide means farmers are not receiving the level of economic support from the community that they could be, and that a large segment of the local population is going without fresh local vegetables and fruits in their diets. In a focus group conducted with local teenagers, the youth were asked how they would describe the level of connectedness between members of their community and the places where their food comes from. The overwhelming response was that there was very little connection, if any – one youth summed it up by saying, “most people seem to think that blueberries come in little plastic boxes.” Another remarked that most people “can only be as specific as what aisle their food came from in the grocery store.” We seek to address this lack of connection and access to local farmers and local food, generating new customers for local farms in the process. A community needs assessment conducted with various local groups that work with low-income people and families confirmed that while cost is a factor, this population’s general lack of access to locally-produced food is not strictly an economic issue. A nutritionist at a local office of the federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program noted that although her clients are offered vouchers for the local farmers market, these often go unredeemed by the young mothers served by the program, and added that many of her clients prefer to buy canned vegetables over fresh. An instructor with “Cooking for Life,” a program designed to improve food security for families living on limited budgets, said that the majority of the parents she works with simply don’t know what to do with fresh vegetables, confirming that this population has a need for education on nutrition, cooking, and access to fresh food. The Director of the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center, which provides free food to those in need, said donations of greens such as kale often go uneaten, because her clients don’t know how to prepare them. And an employee of Southeastern Vermont Community Action noted that her clients tend to use their food stamps for junk food rather than fresh fruits and vegetables, due to a perception that fresh food costs more. While a number of local farms and programs donate fresh produce to local food banks, these actions provide only temporary hunger relief, failing to empower those in need with the information and skills necessary to address their own food security needs. Without outreach and education on food preparation, nutritional benefits and where and how to affordably access local produce, these handouts also fail to create new, long-term consumers of locally grown food.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The mission of the project is to engage the local community with local farmers, thus bridging the divide between farmers (who stand to gain by increasing their customer base) and low-income members of the community (who stand to benefit from increased access to fresh, local, healthy food).

    We plan to accomplish this mission through education and outreach to the community on the benefits of buying local, eating fresh food, and supporting local farmers and farmers markets. Our methods entail a 2-pronged approach: (1) a small-scale farm-share program for low-income families that engages them with the source of their food and provides direct access to fresh produce, as well as the skills and knowledge to continue their connection with local food and local farms after the program; and (2) a broader initiative to educate and empower low-income members of the greater Brattleboro community through presentations, demonstrations, and printed materials on how to access locally grown food, as well as the benefits of incorporating fresh produce into their diets.

    The Youth Horticulture Project (YHP), a program of the University of Vermont Extension, has been running agriculture-based youth programs in the Brattleboro area for five years. The proposed project is an expansion of YHP and will build on the already established infrastructure in place to run the project. This includes a 2-acre field and associated equipment at UVM Extension in Brattleboro that is currently used to grow a variety of vegetables. YHP is a well-established and highly regarded program in the community, which has enabled us to build a coalition of community partners that will help to ensure the success of the program. We have already begun the process of assembling an advisory board that will help to guide the project.

    Unique to the proposed project is the fact that the mission will be carried out by the youth workers in the program, specifically the teens who have previously participated in YHP’s “Summer Work & Learn” program, which teaches farming skills and imparts knowledge and values of land stewardship, community service, and the importance of healthy lifestyle choices. The proposed project will be undertaken by a group of returning youth who are not only enthusiastic about the mission, but are experienced with issues of farming, food systems and food security.

    The nature of the existing program has brought both staff and youth workers into contact with various segments of the local community, including farmers, affordable housing sites, schools, social service agencies and the public. We have also participated in collaborative grants aimed at increasing the availability of local produce to low-income communities.

    Through our programs, discussions and collaborations, it has become clear that despite the apparent abundance of locally-grown fruits and vegetables, a large segment of the local population is nonetheless without access to this fresh produce, impacting not only those members of the community but local growers as well. Meanwhile, the farmers market, an established institution that supports local farmers, has a need for promotion within the community. These needs dovetailed with a desire on the part of the returning youth for increased community involvement and a more active role in addressing some of the challenges that they see facing their 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.