Building Community and Growing Food with the Next Generation

Project Overview

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2015: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2017
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Manager:
Traci Barkley
Sola Gratia Farm

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: youth education

    Proposal abstract:

    Project Abstract
    Sola Gratia Farm will be partnering with youth from Booker T. Washington STEM academy and Champaign Park District to develop community gardens at Douglas Park. In addition, Sola Gratia Farm will be participating in a youth “Beginning Farmer” summer camp. Funds are being sought to support education in basic vegetable growing and healthy eating by our Program Coordinator/Youth Educator and Farm Manager for up to 75 youth through classroom programming, onsite hands-on projects and field trips. Primary project objectives
    include transferring sustainable food production skills to lower income youth while building and enhancing community.

    Detailed Project Plan and Timeline
    In Summer of 2014, Sola Gratia Farm partnered with the Champaign County Farm Bureau and the Champaign Park District to offer a "Beginning Farmers" day camp for approximately 60 youth aged 6-11. Sola Gratia's portion of the day camp covered basics of vegetable growing, healthy eating, healthy cooking and beekeeping. The participating youth were largely from a low-income neighborhood near Douglas Park, and were enrolled through the Douglas Park Community Center. Time spent with the youth and their families as part of the
    camp and additional evening programming revealed three things:
    1) lack of knowledge of both eating and growing vegetables,
    2) poor access to fresh food, and
    3) significant interest in growing and eating vegetables.

    In response, Sola Gratia Farm has partnered again with the Champaign Park District, the local elementary school, the community senior center, and a local church to plan and develop community vegetable gardens within Douglas Park. Through the Winter and Spring of 2016, Sola Gratia staff will be working with 18-20 youth aged 6-11 on community garden planning through afterschool programming. Throughout the planning process, these young “pioneers” will be learning about the following topics: soil health and composting, seed starting, basic plant biology, tools, plants vs. weeds, growing techniques, planting calendar, pests (insects, rodents, birds, etc), sustainability practices (water conservation, nutrient management, soil building, etc), pollination, nutrition, cooking, and journal writing.

    Youth in this afterschool program will be paired with elderly participants from the Douglas Park Senior Center in order to bridge these generations, enhance learning from each other, and to build a strong team to care for the gardens. Development of the garden infrastructure and the initial plantings will take place prior to this funding cycle.

    We are seeking funding from the NCR-SARE Youth Educator Grant Program to support the next phase of this project, beginning in July of 2015 and continuing through late November of 2016. This work will largely fall into three main areas and consist of the following work:
    1) Support and work with the Douglas Park Community Garden Team at onsite gardens: Outdoor work in July-October 2015 and April-October 2016/Indoor planning and programming in November 2015-April 2016.
    •Transplant vegetable starts grown in Sola Gratia Farm’s greenhouse
    •Maintain gardens with weeding, watering, cleanup, etc.
    •Maintain soil health with composting plant waste, mulching, spreading compost and maintaining proper drainage
    •Soil and bed preparation for second and third successions
    •Harvesting and washing of produce
    •Distribution to adjacent school for lunch program, nearby residents and donation to local soup kitchen

    2) Offer Year 2 and 3 of the “Beginning Farmers” day camp at Sola Gratia Farm: July 2015 and July 2016
    •Improve each of the previously used “modules” through simplification, better focus on main points, increase level of active participation
    •Modules include “Intro to Veggie Basics”, “Healthy Eating”, Healthy Cooking” and “Bees and Pollination”.
    •Recruit up to 60 kids to participate in day camp in Year 2
    •Explore repeated offerings of day camp in Year 3

    3) Adapt the programming, activities, and curricula for reuse throughout the year with elementary schools, homeschooling families, shareholder families, residents living near Sola Gratia Farm, and others interested in promotion of eating and growing local food: November 2015-April 2016.
    •Review materials for potential improvements for ease of use, broad applicability, clear educational content and low cost.
    •Standardize program materials with clear instructions, purpose and objectives, material needs, applicability, etc.
    •Format materials for easy distribution through both print and electronic means.
    •Share with project partners, area schools, park districts, extension services, affiliated non-profit organizations, and post on Sola Gratia Farm website.

    Resources Used
    Partnerships are essential to the success of this project. We were originally invited by the Champaign County Farm Bureau to participate as the model small-scale vegetable farm for the "Beginning Farmers" day camp. This was the beginning of what has evolved into a larger outreach of our farm's mission to help those who lack adequate food resources. Champaign Park District administered the camp and helped introduce disadvantaged youth towards developing as food growers themselves. The Park District has also made parkland available for conversion to community gardens and has presented an opportunity through their afterschool program for Sola Gratia Farm to develop and empower these youth as community garden “pioneers”. The principal at Booker T. Washington STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy, which is directly adjacent to Douglas Park, will be working with her teachers and the Douglas Park Community Garden team to use the gardens as a teaching tool and outdoor classroom. Food from the gardens will also be distributed through the Washington School lunch program and the cafeteria food waste will be composted at the community gardens. The local First Mennonite Church is exploring ways to contribute both financial and volunteer resources to the community garden project.

    Sola Gratia Farm’s beekeeper will provide programming for the youth on the importance of pollination and value of beekeeping to food production. Sola Gratia will be donating greenhouse space for veggie starts for the community garden and for use in the day camp. Sola Gratia will also be leading tool building sessions for both the afterschool program and for the Douglas Park Community Garden team to share low-input and low-cost tool production, furthering access to low-cost food production.

    The membership of Sola Gratia follows our farming and outreach activities through our newsletter produced weekly during the CSA season and monthly through the off-season. Progress on the Douglas Community Garden project, summer camp and other youth-oriented outreach and education activities will be written up in the newsletter and reproduced on our website in blog form. We hope to write a guest column regarding the projects in our partner’s outlets including the Champaign Park District's newsletter, the Champaign Farm Bureau's magazine, and the school district's website. Highlights will be shared through our Facebook page with inclusion of photos and short video clips. We also plan on offering public presentations as we have in the past covering our work for local service organizations, congregations, school groups, University Extension, Faith in Place, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, and The Land Connection. We will also work with the youth involved in the Douglas Park Community Gardens to host neighborhood events, sharing the garden’s produce and opportunities to get involved with neighborhood residents.

    Student and Community Impact
    Youth are naturally curious and especially like active involvement with natural elements such as water, soil and plants. Then, of course, we all need to eat, so learning how to grow food not only helps youth feel empowered in meeting their own needs but also enables them to feel useful and productive to others. We anticipate that working together to plan, design and build the gardens will improve bonding, provide fun and exercise and teach the participants many aspects of math, biology, physics, engineering, chemistry, fine arts, etc. Our hope is that a sense of pride will develop, not only with the youth and their senior partners directly involved in the project, but also with the neighborhood residents who come to visit the gardens. The food that will be produced will be shared with elementary students at lunchtime as well as with nearby residents and potentially the local soup kitchen and foodbank. An increase of vegetables in diets helps improve individual and community nutrition and hopefully will reduce some food costs while increasing knowledge of how to provide food for oneself. We will be measuring impact by tracking numbers such as:
    •# kids involved in Douglas Park Community Garden development and care
    •# kids involved in summer day camp
    •# lbs of food produced
    •# lbs of food provided to Washington School
    •# lbs of food donated (neighbors or food assistance programs)
    •# of attendees at events for park garden neighbors

    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.