Youth Service Corps Fruit Tree Project: Sustainable Approach to Neighborhood Fruit Access

Project Overview

YENC14-074
Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2014: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Manager:
Rita O'Brien
Allen Neighborhood Center

Commodities

  • Fruits: apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, plums, general tree fruits

Practices

  • Crop Production: organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: mentoring, workshop, youth education
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, local and regional food systems, urban agriculture, community services

    Abstract:

    Dear NCR-SARE,

    In March 2014, NCR-SARE graciously awarded Allen Neighborhood Center (ANC) a Youth Educator Grant in the sum of $2,000 to support our Youth Service Corps (YSC) program. ANC’s Youth Programs operate mainly out of Hunter Park GardenHouse, a hub for year-round gardening education and a community gathering space. Youth Service Corps (YSC), a job and life skills training program for youth ages 11-17, engages in service-learning projects focusing on food access in Lansing’s Eastside.

    During the school year, Youth Service Corps was offered 2X/week, while the programs were offered 5X/week in the summer months. 100% of youth reported an increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables and physical activity, and increase in horticultural skills as a result of participation in our program. Participation was tremendous; we had 42 unduplicated Youth Service Corps members and a total of 675 duplicated youth were served.

    With your support, we accomplished the following youth-driven service learning projects, with an emphasis on our Fruit Tree Project:

    1. Edible Park, a space where neighbors are encouraged to help themselves to fresh produce, was expanded by 10 fruit trees (apples, pears, cherries, and peaches) for a total of 25 trees. Youth also added 50 strawberry plants. During the summer months, YSC members researched and integrated Hugelkultur beds into Edible Park. Creating Hugelkultur beds offered a new method of composting and growing food in one designated space. Currently we have strawberry plants growing with intentions of planting more fruits and vegetables in spring 2015. The design and implementation of the Hugelkultur beds expanded Edible Park approximately 350 sq. ft. 

    1. 20 Garden-in-a-Box kits, a scale appropriate intro to gardening, were constructed and distributed throughout the neighborhood to neighbors with limited income, mobility, and gardening skill. After the boxes were delivered, YSC members conducted yard visits, and continued to work with recipients on care and harvesting of plants.

    1. Park Cart, a project developed by YSC members, provides neighbors with access to healthy, affordable snacks which are handmade by YSC members in the Allen Market Place commercial kitchen. We made a variety of value-added food products, which we sold at park cart. This food selection included granola bars, frozen fruit pops, herbal lemonade and iced-tea. During this past year, we have increased both our healthy snack production and revenue from Park Cart sales.  To provide greater exposure and patronage of our Park Cart project, we moved the cart from Hunter Park to the Allen Street Farmers Market this past summer, resulting in increased revenue and greater business development opportunities. Park Cart was open and staffed June-August with 2 youth members and 1 adult per session (youth: adult ratio allows for personal mentoring time). For marketing support, we brought in business experts within our community to assist our members in developing marketing strategies to support our park cart project. This includes networking, bookkeeping, product development and pricing, and more. Through their involvement in this project, youth learned business planning, marketing and sales, customer service, bookkeeping, safe food handling, and job scheduling skills.

    1. Fruit Tree Project, our newest youth project, mapped a total of 19 fruit trees within the Eastside neighborhood. Our Youth Service Corps members learned new skills and techniques in fruit tree identification, integrated pest management (IPM), fruit tree care, communications, outreach, surveying, kitchen work, and mapping as they worked with neighbors to map and harvest from neighborhood fruit trees. We harvested approximately 15 pounds of fruit (cherries, mulberries, plums) which was used to make our value-added food products sold at Park Cart. Additional fruit was divided between neighbor(s), youth program participants, and ANC’s weekly food pantry, Bread Basket. During the year YSC hosted special guests for sessions focusing on sustainable agricultural practices, business, and marketing. Hosted educators included John Hooper (Board member of Michigan Organic Food and Farming Alliance), Rick Kibby (Board member of City of Lansing Parks and Recreation), and Diane Smith (Innovation Counselor at MSU Product Center). As for the sustainable agricultural practices, our members learned pest management, integrated pest management strategies, fruit tree care, soil care, alternative forms of agriculture: hugelkulture bed creation, compost, harvesting, and maintenance practices.

    We shared information about Youth Service Corps’ food projects through Allen Neighborhood Center’s bi-monthly Eastside Neighbor newsletter (distribution to 3,500 Eastside homes) and Active Neighboring weekly e-newsletter (distribution of 2,050 and growing). We also distributed flyers to 20 local businesses. Our Facebook page, “Hunter Park GardenHouse Youth Service Corps”, and Allen Neighborhood Center website reached a wide audience on the web through postings and photo updates. During the summer months, the Park Cart created a venue to discuss the expansion of these projects with neighbors who purchase the value-added food products made with fruits, vegetables, and herbs from Edible Park.

    YSC members presented at Lansing’s annual Everybody Eats Conference on current food access projects, Garden-in-a-Box, Edible Park, Fruit Tree Project, and Park Cart. The conference pulled many food justice proponents from across the state of Michigan. Our Youth Programs Coordinator and Gardening Educator attended Lansing’s Eastside neighborhood group meetings to inform neighbors of the projects. As members of the Youth Gardening Coalition, we met quarterly with other local youth educators, and shared what we’ve learned about the projects in our meetings.

    As you can see from the above accomplishments, Allen Neighborhood Center’s Youth Programs aims to increase youth capacity for individual and community development. With your support, we built on the successes of each of these projects, allowing for an even greater impact on the health and viability of our community, while further increasing horticultural, culinary, and entrepreneurial skills of our young participants.

    Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, or for more information. Thank you so very much for your support!

    Sincerely,
    Lacey Ingrao
    Youth Programs Coordinator
    Allen Neighborhood Center
    youthprograms@allenneighborhoodcenter.org
    517-999-3918

    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.