Green Tops Sustainable Agriculture Boot Camp

Project Overview

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2013: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Manager:
Elizabeth Longley
The Baldwin Center


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: crop rotation, high tunnels or hoop houses, low tunnels, season extension
  • Education and Training: mentoring, youth education
  • Soil Management: composting

    Proposal abstract:

    The Baldwin Center is a community center located in an urban, high-poverty area of Pontiac, Michigan. Programming includes a soup kitchen and after school programs for youth. As part of our educational mission a group of high school students meet year-round to support Baldwin's urban gardening program. As part of this program students also receive entrepreneurial training by operating farm stands at local farmers markets. As part of this proposed Agricultural Boot Camp, high school students participating in the Green Tops program will receive intensive training prior to the summer growing season and during the fall season in order to support these efforts. In this project we will partner with Oakland University Student Organic Farming Program and the Michigan Young Farmers Coalition to train/mentor youth in organic gardening with a goal of growing sufficient produce to sell at the farmstand projects, develop value added products and to support the feeding programs of the Baldwin Center. OUSOFP and MYFC will develop and present a series of workshops and an urban farm tour series that will engage the Green Tops in hands-on training and learning experiences at the Baldwin Center gardens and hoophouse, as well as at the OU Student Organic Farm.

    This project builds on a successful partnership between the BC and the OUSOFP, in which OU students' service-learning project provided planning, installation and expansion of the BC's modest gardens and underutilized hoophouse. This has brought the BC gardens to a stage where they can actually be used for production for the BC's youth entrepreneurial Green Tops farmstand project, which was previously dependent on donated produce. We aim to train the Green Tops group in organic food and flower production for their farmstand. For this project we will partner with both the OUSOFP staff and students and add a new partner, the Michigan Young Farmers Coalition whose members practicing urban farming in the Metro Detroit area.

    The project will start as soon as possible after receiving funding. Staff from the OUSOFP and members of the MYFC will develop a curriculum in organic farming based on the MSU Organic Certificate Program's materials, as modified for the high school student's time frame and background. The training is scheduled to include 6 4-hr. workshops on seasonally relevant topics using interactive, hands-on activities and problem-solving throughout. There will be three workshops in the spring and three workshops in the fall.

    The specific practices described in detail below will be taught as part of the Green Tops' workshops, field trips, and in-garden experiences. The "how and why" of sustainable farming as exemplified in organic practices will be emphasized throughout. GTs will be introduced to the garden design and "farm plan" for the current year so they understand how and why the plan has been prepared and what to expect in terms of harvest schedule and succession planning. Students will plan their market day in advance by learning to predict harvest times, finding recipes for crops they will be selling. New crops--cut flowers and herbs-- will be grown for their ecological contribution as well market items that may become value-added products in time. Students will learn to seed and transplant crops for their farmstand, ultimately harvesting and selling their own crop. Proper harvesting, washing, and packing techniques will be practiced. In-field training and activities will take place at the Baldwin Center and the OUSOF.

    Green Tops will have the opportunity to garden side-by-side with OUSOF students, volunteers including many Master Gardeners. Field trips are planned during the growing season to nonprofit and for-profit urban gardens in the Pontiac area and urban gardens started and/or managed by MYFC members. These trips will showcase the work of young urban farmers as role models. Gardens will be selected to demonstrate various aspects of sustainability that may not be as easily demonstrated at Baldwin.

    The plan envisions additional training during the growing season for all of the youth employment program leaders and participants that is not funded by this grant that will focus on the day-to-day operations needed to bring the gardens into full production. The volunteer youth participants in the pre- and post-season training will receive leadership roles in the employment program including site supervisor and market supervisor designations.


    WORKSHOPS: Workshops will include in-class presentations which have a hands-on
    component, OU student and MYFC mentoring, and student journaling and other forms of
    reporting, ie, video, etc. for later presentations and Green Tops' website. Key topics include:
    • The Garden Plan: plant families and crop rotations-why and how
    • Seed selection and transplant production
    • Soil, fertility, and water and pest control
    • Flowers and Herbs: pollinators, beneficial insects, pests
    • Season Extension: enhanced productivity in limited space using hoophouse, low tunnels,
    • Composting: hot, cold, sheet, and vermiculture
    • Permaculture design

    FIELD TRIPS: Field trips will show many examples of the above techniques, as well as serving as a chance to meet and talk to "real urban farmers" in their own settings, illustrating the many ways that sustainable food production can be managed in an urban area.

    GARDEN EXPERIENCES: The Green Tops will have opportunities to be involved in planning, planting, maintenance, and harvest activities at the Baldwin Center and, where feasible, by shadowing OUSOFP students at Oakland University

    FARMSTAND: The Green Tops will be trained and men to red by the OUSOFP and MYFC in harvest, weighing, packing, and displaying their produce, having recipes, and describing their organic farming practices to customers.

    During the summer months the Green Tops program transforms into Baldwin Center's Youth Employment Program where 50 youth aged 16-19 are paid to work in community gardens throughout the City and operate farmstands at several area farmers markets. This program is funded by the State of Michigan. The summer of 2012 was the first year of the employment program and one of the weaknesses of the program was the lack of knowledge participants had about organic gardening and sustainable agriculture. It is our hope that this program will help train participants (who are volunteers in the spring and fall) so that they can become "experts" during the growing season. This training will develop leadership skills and the students who complete the training program will then become site supervisors during the summer program.

    With the increased knowledge of program participants it is also our desire to increase the yield of several community gardens and the capacity for additional gardens in the City. While some of the produce will be used at farmstands, it is expected that other fruits and vegetables will be used in the Summer Feeding Program operated by the Baldwin Center for low-income children throughout the City.

    Baldwin Center Garden , Hoophouse, and Kitchen: The BC has a "front" and "backyard"garden, which was developed and improved in collaboration with the OUSOFP students as their service-learning project. In addition, the garden plan for the 28' x 96' hoophouse provided by
    MSU Extension earlier, has been redesigned by the OUSOFP for maximal extended season
    production. Most of the workshops will be held at these outdoor sites and in our conference
    rooms. The BC licensed kitchen and dining room will be used for some workshops (ie, postharvest
    food storage, canning, etc) and the end of year harvest festival/reporting event.

    Oakland University Student Organic Farm: The OUSOFP program is based on the MSU
    Student Organic Farm Certificate Program Curriculum. The OU approach will be adapted for
    the high school level background, and will include relevant handouts, websites, books and videosas needed. In some cases the student farm site maybe the site of a workshop.

    Michigan Young Farmers Coalition: Members of the MYFC located in the greater
    Detroit/Pontiac area will be engaged in the presentations as well as the OU students and staff. In addition, their urban garden projects will be key sites for field trips.

    The story of Baldwin's gardening program is well known in the local area. It has been featured in local and regional media and is well known among local nonprofit and educational institutions. The educational effort funded by this grant will strengthen the story of how lives can be transformed by focusing on how food can be grown organically and locally.

    This story will be showcased through several different communication channels. Baldwin Center has a long established relationship with local media and will publicize the program through those venues, additional story telling will be on the green tops website and Facebook page. This effort will also be presented at Pontiac's wellness coalition, Healthy Pontiac, We Can! which is co-chaired by the executive director of the Baldwin Center. This educational effort will also be featured at Oakland University among its students and faculty. Additionally it will be featured as part of the State of Michigan Youth Employment 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.