Eat Your Peas! Enterpreneurial Farming and Nutrition Training for youth in Urban KC, KS
The growing season of 2009 was an exciting one. There was a marked increase in activities and an overall expansion of the Salt of the Earth Youth Market Garden project.
The season began early with starting seeds in the greenhouse for transplanting as soon as the weather would permit. The young people visited the Quell-Davis Community Greenhouse (a part of the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture) where they were oriented in greenhouse basics. We taught them what a greenhouse was for and why it was beneficial to have one if possible to aide in getting a good start in any growing season. During the greenhouse lessons they would learn fundamentals of how to start seeds, maintain the best environment for germination, and track the growth of the plants until time to move transplants into the garden.
The next lessons were given on the preparation of the farm sites. We removed rocks and other debris that was unearthed during plowing. There was an environmental factor that caused the planting of the farming site at Juniper Gardens to be delayed. The first planting took place at the 13th and Georgia site called Greenethumb. Several of the youth planted cool-season crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, collards and cabbage.
Some of the proceeds of the grant were used to purchase basic materials such as t-posts and garden tools. Some seeds and transplants were purchased. Ground cherries are difficult to germinate and I ended up ordering transplants along with some pepper plants from Seed Savers.
I had business cards and a brochure created so I actually had something to give people when they asked me. I also purchased baskets and other materials for market. The season of 2009 found us receiving quite a bit of media attention. On June 28, 2009 we were a part of the city wide farm tour. We got t-shirts that we used as uniforms for that event as well as for market days. There were other expenditures such as rental of a van for the tour, monies used to pay for water usage, snacks for the youth, and payment for delivery of some donated soil. There was also the upkeep of the perimeter of the garden sites that was maintained by three different entities.
The largest amount spent of the first installment was used to pay an hourly wage of $5.50 to two young men both in high school. Leroy and Tracy are high school seniors that desperately wanted to work. They had applied to work with the program through a program called Workforce. They failed to qualify for the program and begged me to give them work. Initially, I was to only use them for a short time and it turned out to be longer as the summer went on. The balance that was spent went to pay my farming assistant Jeon at $7.50 per hour. I did not pay myself a salary.
Besides the farm tour on the 28th of June, Salt of the Earth Youth participated in several markets. The Kansas City Green Market held on Mondays was in cooperation with the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture. We sold produce there with refugee women in the New Roots for Refugees market farmers training program at the corner of 3rd and Richmond in KC, KS. We also participated in the KC Green Market at 6th and Tauromee in KC, KS. On the second and fourth Sundays, the market was set up in the church parking lot for the parishioners at the Third Street Church of God. We also did a small CSA for some of the elderly.
The educational process continued on the basics of farming and nutrition, as well as techniques on customer service, how to give correct change, and self presentation. I continued to show the young farmers how to prepare healthy meals using the produce from the garden. The young people saw how much people appreciated their efforts when they were at the market or at other public forums.
The results are on-going. The first result is that we completed the 2009 growing season with nominal success. The last season was one of learning all the way around. It was the beginning of the organizing phase of the project. In July I made the project into a sole proprietorship business which bought the responsibilities of paying business and employee taxes and all that goes with that. I began the process of keeping records of yields, sales, and keeping track of the youth participation. I also organized garden sessions. The results were mixed. We did not make much money this season. Some of the reasons for low revenue is the under pricing of our produce. We also did not participate in a large market that would bring in a variety of consumers willing to pay higher prices. At this point more was spent than was made. The youth did a fairly good job at participation. It is difficult to get young people to get dirty and work in sometimes less-than-stellar conditions during their summer. I ended up with a faithful 12 young people involved at any given time. The young people were surveyed about the project and the over-all consensus is that they felt it was a beneficial program and they wanted to continue to learn about farming, health and enjoyed the garden.
The past growing season was a difficult one. All of the extra rain and fewer high temperature days caused our tomato crop to fail. We had other failures such as eggplants, watermelon, some sweet peppers, and beets. We had other crops that faired quite well including broccoli, kale, mixed salad greens, cabbage, scallions, beans, etc.
Many of the adjustments that need to be made concern the balancing of the work days, harvest and processing time, and market days. Moving the produce in a timely manner to reduce loss is a definite goal in the pending season. There are multiple issues that are at hand and seemingly not enough hours in the day to address them. I learned about what I couldn’t control (weather). I also learned that I need to remain vigilant in the area of keeping records. That is the part that no farmer wants to deal with but this season I am determined to minimize my inconvenience. I also have to scale down in the fall when the kids go back to school. It is difficult to maintain the garden sites themselves and get produce harvested. This season I will require that the parents take a more active role in the season. They will need to do more than just get their youngster to the garden and pick them up. I found that working with the young people in smaller groups was more productive than when I would have big group sessions. This season I will break them into groups and only have the larger groups when there is classroom time or some other major event.
I learned that scaling back in some ways is not a bad idea. I grew too many different varieties. I had more to do than I could comfortably manage. This season I will share some of my growing space with a farmer who lives in the neighborhood and also works with young people. We are teaming up and trying to be as much help to each other as possible. We have not joined together in an official manner, but we are collaborating.
WORK PLAN FOR 2010
The first phase of the plan is to get an early start with the transplants. I have done that. I began growing at the beginning of February. With the transplants well underway I plan to sell some of the transplants at Expos and at early markets.
March 18th of this year we had an open house and tour at the greenhouse during the week of spring break. The next event we will have is an Earth Day activity where we will give seeds out to children to take home and plant.
May is the beginning of the market season. This year The Salt of the Earth Youth Market Garden will be selling produce at the Farmer’s Market in Merriam, KS. This is a well established market that runs through October every Saturday.
In the mean time, we will provide produce to our CSA members and continue to educate the young people about farming and entrepreneurship.
The season will officially end just before Thanksgiving at the Harvest dinner held at Third Street Church of God.
There will be other activities throughout the season. I will try to get the young people to other well-established farms to see their operations.
We had quite a bit of media exposure in the season of 2009. In June some of the youth and I did the radio broadcast Keeping it Real on 890 AM telling the public about the farm tour. Later we had the opportunity to do two different public television programs. The first program we did was America’s Heartland and most of the youth were involved. They did a five minute feature on the project at the 13th and Georgia site. The young people were interviewed and they filmed us doing our regular garden activities. We had food that was made from the garden and they highlighted the neighborhood. It was a great experience for them. People in the neighborhood took notice and many began to inquire about what was taking place. The taping entitled Urban Ag is available on line at www.americasheartland.org/episodes/episode_520/urban_ag.htm#
The second television program was Sunflower Journeys. This program was about locally grown produce and aired in November. There were fewer young people on hand for this taping, but it captured the essence of the project. The filming took place at the Juniper Gardens site. Again, the youth were interviewed and had the opportunity to express how they felt about farming and gardening. We had a watch party at the church. People from all over told me that they saw the piece and enjoyed it.
The farm tour in June provided us with the largest crowd at the gardening site itself. We had over 200 people visit our site at Juniper. The young people would take people on a guided tour through the garden telling them what was growing and what they knew about the produce. We had someone with a mobile kitchen. We had a farmers market, face painting, jazz ensemble and a drill team. Everyone was impressed with the young farmers’ knowledge and many signed the guest book to be informed of future events and activities.
This year I plan to use technology more. I am in the process of creating a web site. I will be able to keep customers and interested parties informed about upcoming activities and specials.
I will put together a newsletter that the young people can contribute to and put that on the web site.
We will put a story about what we are doing in the community newspaper
We will hopefully attract more television attention.
I plan to utilize more fliers this season. I will place them in the windows of stores in the area and at local churches.