Building Community and Growing Food with the Next Generation

Project Overview

YENC15-091
Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2015: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2017
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Manager:
Tod Satterthwaite
Sola Gratia Farm

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  • Education and Training: youth education

    Abstract:

    PROJECT IDENTIFICATION
    Name: Traci Barkley, Sola Gratia Farm
    Address: 2200 South Philo Rd.
          City:  Urbana                                   State:  IL                   Zip Code:  61802

    Phone:  217-367-1189
    E-mail:  solagratiacsa@gmail.com
    Website: www.solagratiacsa.com
    Project Title: Building Community and Growing Food with the Next Generation
    Project Number:  YENC 15-091
    Project Duration: 2 years
    Date of Report: 2/15/2017

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
    Over the last two years, Traci Barkley of Sola Gratia Farm has worked with students in the Champaign Park District LEAD Afterschool Program at the Douglass Park Community Center on the planning and development of a community vegetable garden.  Between 20-25 students aged K-5 participated during the school year in activities regarding vegetable growing, bees and pollination, healthy eating, vegetable preparation and cooking, soil health, tools, cultivation techniques and more.  Field trips to Sola Gratia Farm allowed kids to mix soil, plant seeds, and see their “parent” farm.  In both 2015 and 2016, 10-12 girls aged 8-12 enrolled in an eight week summer day camp program for girls in science and took over as caretakers for the garden.  The following crops were grown in the 2015 season: red potatoes, yukon potatoes, sweet potatoes, red and yellow onions, carrots, three kinds of kale, red and green cabbage, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, two kinds of kohlrabi, Swiss chard, four kinds of peppers, six kinds of tomatoes, two kinds of eggplant, summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, two kinds of head lettuce, and sweet corn.  Many types of produce were washed, prepped, and then juiced (!), cooked or baked by the kids in the kitchen in the adjacent Douglass Park Senior Center.   In 2015, we were publicly honored at the Illinois Association of Park District’s Annual Dinner with the "Best of the Best" Small Business Award for partnership in this program.

    In 2016, the garden was doubled in size and a compost bin was added.  Trellises for peas and beans were constructed and installed and new cages for fruiting crops such as tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant and peppers were added.  The following crops were grown in the 2016 season: flowers, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, melons, squash, potatoes, onions, peas, beans, chard, kale, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, turnips, carrots, and beets.  We added god’s eyes, plant labels and colorful trellis yarn to beautify the garden. The kids caring for the garden enjoyed taking produce home as well as donating bushel baskets full to the men’s homeless shelter a few blocks away.  New community partners started using the garden in 2016 including Prosperity Garden’s Garden Club for high schoolers as well as our local food cooperative, Common Ground, for their youth programs.  In partnership with the Champaign County Farm Bureau, we also hosted close to 200 students each year from park district day camps at the farm.  Youth were introduced to the basics of growing and harvesting good veggies, the value of bees and healthy eating. 

    BACKGROUND

    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 Farm'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 Douglass Park, and were enrolled through the Douglass 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 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 Douglass Park. Funds were sought from the NCR-SARE Youth Education Program to support the next two years of working with youth aged 6-11 on community garden planning  and development through afterschool programming. 

    GOALS

    Our goals for this project were as follows:

    1) Support and work with the Douglass 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, and 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.

    PROCESS

    Douglass Park Community Garden. In the fall of 2014, Sola Gratia Farm started working with the students in the Champaign Park District LEAD Afterschool Program at the Douglass Park Community Center towards developing a community vegetable garden. Between 20-25 students aged K-5 participated in discussions, lessons and activities regarding basic vegetable identification, how vegetables grow, what parts of the plant we eat, the importance of bees and pollination, basic of healthy eating, vegetable preparation and cooking, basics of soil health and how to amend, tools needed in vegetable gardening, cultivation techniques and more. By late Winter of 2015, vegetables to grow in the garden were chosen, seeds were secured, an interactive felt map of the proposed garden was developed, the beds were measured, and sod was removed. The beds were tilled in early April and Douglass Park Community Garden was born! Two field trips out to Sola Gratia Farm allowed kids to mix soil, plant seeds, see their "parent" farm and see the tractor that tilled their own garden. Seeds planted at Sola Gratia's greenhouse were cared for by farm staff until ready for transplanting while seeds planted directly in the garden bed were watered and weeded by the kids. By the time school let out in early June, the following vegetables were growing in the garden: red potatoes, Yukon potatoes, sweet potatoes, red and yellow onions, carrots, three kinds of kale, red and green cabbage, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, two kinds of kohlrabi, Swiss chard, four kinds of peppers, six kinds of tomatoes, two kinds of eggplant, summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, two kinds of head lettuce, and sweet corn. Over the summer, 10-12 girls aged 8-12 and enrolled in a summer day camp program for girls in science took over as caretakers for the garden. The camp ran for several weeks and part of every day was spent in the garden. The girls weeded, watered, planted additional vegetable successions, kept journals, ran various experiments, harvested veggies and coordinated donations of vegetables to the local men's homeless shelter.

    When school started in September, several students from Year 1 of Garden Club remained in the afterschool program, though several new students joined. We finished the year's harvest, including bushels and bushels of carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes and then covered the beds with straw to rest for the winter. Vegetables harvested throughout the season were either prepared and eaten by kids onsite, sent home for their families to enjoy or donated to our local men’s homeless shelter. Indoor programming for the late Fall/Winter/early Spring started with using our harvested sweet potatoes to make sweet potato pies! We talked about why we covered the garden with mulch, basic soil biology, and what happens underground in the wintertime. Early in 2016, we made garden journals, selected our seed, and started the whole process over again. In this year, we blocked the beds into “Roots”, “Shoots”, and “Fruits” and added more three dimensional elements such as trellises for peas, teepees for beans and more cages for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.  We also incorporated more art into the garden, such as god’s eyes, plant labels and colorful trellis yarn to beautify the garden. We worked to integrate new community partners into the garden and were pleased to have Prosperity Garden’s Garden Club for high schoolers use and care for the garden as well as our local food cooperative, Common Ground Food Coop, for their youth programs as well as more Champaign Park District programs.  

     “Beginning Farmers” Day Camp. In July of both 2015 and 2016 and in partnership with the Champaign County Farm Bureau, we hosted approximately 140 students from the Champaign Park District-Leonard Center on one day and another 60 kids from the CPD-Douglass Community Center on a subsequent day. Two of the three groups (6 to 11 years old) went through our day camp stations at the farm where they were introduced to the basics of growing and harvesting good veggies, the value of bees and healthy eating. Farmers Clay and Hunter took the kids on a field tour and introduced them to the concept of “roots, fruits and shoots” and helped them identify which part we are eating and how the complete plant looks when growing. Traci Barkley got their blood pumping with food group relays after talking about food as fuel and what kids need to eat to keep up with their summer joys of swimming, biking, basketball, etc. We also talked about “superfoods” and the benefits of carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, etc. and created our own “superfood superheroes” (ala Popeye) with modeling clay and markers. At the bee station, the kids learned about bees and their unique community roles and their importance to fruit and vegetable production. Another two leaders had the kids running relays, picking up “pollen” from flowers and delivering to the hive. Our resident beekeeper, Maggie, taught the kids about hive recognition and worked with the kids to paint bee boxes. Both weeks, the kids decorated our parking lot with chalk drawings of bees and flowers. Finally, the kids took a cooking class with Chef Colleen where they learned about setting your “mise en place”, food preparation and the basics of cooking! They made tasty squash and zucchini tacos with produce from the farm.

    In 2015, one group of kids, the 10-13 year olds, didn’t get a chance to have their camp session with us at the farm due to the storms that rolled in. Instead, we brought them inside for a cooking class with Chef Colleen and to view the documentary “A Place at the Table”. We weren’t sure how this group would receive the very difficult content of the film, but the room was silent…and they were not sleeping. The film is an examination of the issue of hunger in America and chronicles the struggle of three individuals from different parts of the US in finding adequate nutrition. We had a very full discussion after the film about what hunger looks like and how people find themselves in need, how to ask for help and who can help, and what each of us can do to be part of the solution. Camp always takes a lot out of our staff and volunteers as we are doing this in the busiest part of the season with already over-full days (and this year, extreme weather!) But working with the kids during these camp sessions serves to ground us and remind us why we are doing what we are doing in the first place. Here’s hoping a few will plant a garden, start experimenting in the kitchen, ask their parents to buy a few more healthy foods at the store and stop swatting at bees and instead take a moment to watch and wonder. 

    PEOPLE

    Partnerships are essential to the success of this project. We were originally invited by Brad Uken, Manager of 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, under the direction of Tiffany White, Douglass Park Manager and Katherine Hicks, Douglass Park Program Coordinator, administered the camp and helped introduce disadvantaged youth towards developing as food growers themselves. The Park District also made parkland available for conversion to community gardens and presented an opportunity through their afterschool program for Sola Gratia Farm to develop and empower these youth as community garden “pioneers”.  Sola Gratia Farm’s beekeeper, a local art teacher, a small business owner, a local caterer and several volunteers participated in the day camp and provided programming for the youth. Partnering with Nicole Bridges of Prosperity Garden has provided high school aged youth an opportunity to work on a different scale garden than their own and brought some much needed labor to the Douglass Park Community Garden.  Common Ground Food Coop’s Outreach Coordinator (was Maya Bauer, now Sarah Buckman) have used the garden for planting, harvesting and cooking classes with their youth programs.  Finally, we have been regularly working with an artist/teacher to incorporate more art into this project and recently were joined by a social worker/nutritionist, both of whom work with the kids monthly, if not bi-weekly.

    RESULTS

    Garden Club members and day camp participants have learned about the following topics through programming and activities: 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 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. Working together to plan, design and build the gardens improved bonding, provided fun and exercise and taught the participants many aspects of math, biology, physics, engineering, chemistry, fine arts, etc. We have seen a sense of pride develop, not only with the youth and their partners directly involved in the project, but also with the neighborhood residents who come to visit the gardens. A few hundred pounds of produce was shared with the nearby men’s homeless shelter as well as Prosperity Garden’s Mobile (pay-as-you-can) Market.   Finally, 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.

    DISCUSSION

    Plenty has been learned from this project’s including optimal timing and content of weekly programming and how best to engage kids in various activities. This group of kids largely went from disinterest, fear of getting dirty and general squirreliness to taking ownership in the garden, asking deeper and deeper questions about growing food and great enthusiasm for every task from planting, weeding, harvesting, mulching, trellising and especially watering. What we feel most proud of was that their concern for having their very public garden “messed with” or “stolen from” turned to a desire to give the produce away to those that need it most or to take home to their families with a genuine sense of pride.

    OUTREACH

    The current and past membership of Sola Gratia Farm (approximately 350 people) follows our farming and outreach activities through our newsletter produced weekly during the CSA season and monthly through the off-season. Progress on the Douglass Park Community Garden project, summer camp and other youth-oriented outreach and education activities have been written up in the newsletter and reproduced on our website in blog form. We also highlight this project in the St. Matthew Lutheran Church monthly Insight newsletter (reaches approximately 300 people).  Highlights have been shared through our Facebook page (776 followers) as well as the Champaign Park District's Facebook page (6772 followers) with inclusion of photos and short video clips, including the video developed by NCR-SARE. We have provided public presentations covering this work for CU Sunrise Rotary (75 people), Women's Executive Club (50 people), Altrusa (35 people), University Extension (20 people), Faith in Place (20), Champaign County Farm Bureau (20) three local congregations (estimated 600 people combined), The Land Connection workshop (20 people) as well as at the 2016 Regional Neighborhood Networking Conference (40 people) and 2017 Illinois Specialty Crops Conference (20 people) as part of the NCR-SARE Farmers Forum. We spoke to the Champaign Park District Board at public meetings several times and were publicly honored in 2015 at the Illinois Association of Park District’s Annual Dinner with the "Best of the Best" Small Business Award for partnership in this program. We were also part of a "Grand Opening" of the new and improved Douglass Park in May 2015 as well as two neighborhood evening events in 2016 in partnership with the Champaign Park District, reaching an additional 150 attendees.  Produce from the garden has been shared with the men's homeless shelter (TIMES Center) nearby as well as with Prosperity Garden's Mobile Market, which provides a pay-as-you-can produce market in an adjacent low-income neighborhood. 

    (Photos and newsletters are included in the grant report version that was sent to Joan Benjamin on 2/15/2017.  They could not be uploaded with this report.)

    Figure 1. Douglass Park Community Garden planted with tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, melons, squash, potatoes, onions, peas, bean, chard, kale, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, turnips, carrots, and beets. Garden club members in background, May 2016.

    Figures 2 and 3. Making God’s eyes with the Garden Club.  See below, where they are “planted” in the garden, June 2016.

    Figure 4. Day camp attendees after harvest of vegetables from Douglass Park Community Garden (in background), July 2016.

    *All youth involved in the Douglass Park Community Garden program ("Garden Club") are enrolled in the Champaign Park District's (CPD) LEAD Afterschool Program.  From the CPD Program Guide: "Frequently, the Park District takes video or photographs of people enjoying programs, special events, parks, or facilities.  These photographs are for Park District promotions, marketing, and related awards entries.  They are used at the Park District’s discretion and become its sole property.  If a registered participant wishes to be excluded from any photographs they may do so in writing to the Champaign Park District Marketing Department, or by simply stepping away from the camera or notifying the photographer." As of 2/15/2017, the Champaign Park District LEAD Afterschool participants and garden club members have not requested to be excluded from photographs or video.

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    PROGRAM EVALUATION

    We have enjoyed being a part of this program and have appreciated the additional opportunities and support in addition to the financial resources provided.   Specifically, we are grateful for the 2016 site visit by NCR-SARE and IL-SARE staff, the short video that has proved to be a very useful outreach tool for us and the opportunity to present at the Illinois Specialty Crops Conference in early 2017.  

     

    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.