- Education and Training: youth education
- Farm Business Management: apprentice/intern training, budgets/cost and returns, farmers' markets/farm stands
- Production Systems: aquaponics
- Sustainable Communities: community development, leadership development, public participation, quality of life
STAR Credit Union, located in the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, are situated in food deserts with limited access to healthy, nutritionally adequate food. Locally sourced produce is not on this community’s radar as a career choice or personal food option. STAR Credit Union is looking to partner with Slow Food Madison, several area farmers and associations, and the Willy St Grocery Cooperative to create a program to teach this demographic of youth about farming in a sustainable and economically viable way. Participants will learn to evaluate profitability and the implications that sustainable farming has on their community.
Detailed Project Plan and Timeline
Grow your Green is a project designed to teach participants about the economic viability of ecologically sound and socially responsible agricultural practices. This project will begin in the fall of 2016 with the creation of an agricultural business. Finding a balance between profitability and community vitality will be the goal of this project. The first 8-week phase will provide participants with the knowledge they need to be successful in their sustainable agriculture endeavor. Area farmers will teach participants about how they built their businesses and have sustained profits over the long term. Participants will learn the difference between community-supported agriculture enterprises and selling direct to consumers at farmers markets, or delivering to restaurants and small grocers. They will take time to do market research and uncover needs in their community and learn to match product to demand. This foundational knowledge is crucial, as participants will use this groundwork to create their own business. During the second phase, participants will work directly with the business side of their agricultural endeavor by creating their business plan, marketing to their community, and analyzing profit margins. The third phase will give participants hands-on applications to the agricultural processes they learned. During this phase, participants will use the tools they learned about sustainable agriculture to create a flourishing, environmentally friendly garden that satisfies community need and generates profit. They will plant, harvest and sell their produce at local area farmers markets and through CSA’s.
The economic viability of agriculture will be taught in the first 8-week phase. Lessons will alternate between the business and environmental sides of agriculture. STAR Credit Union will facilitate the business focused lessons while Slow Foods Madison will facilitate lessons regarding agricultural practices. The first week will cover entrepreneurship, the basics of a business plan and the purpose for the project. During the second lesson participants will learn the sustainable practice of ecological insect and weed management. Week three will focus on demand and profit, offering an opportunity to discuss diversity in landscapes and crops. This will lead to the fourth lesson which will discuss in detail cover crop pricing and yield in detail. During the fifth week we will discuss marketing, sales, and community vitality. Weeks six, seven and eight will offer the opportunity to learn from area farmers with farm visits, guest speakers and research on different farms. Participants will be able to learn about the fiscal practices of these farms, and more importantly the agricultural practices that have kept them ecological and profitable.
The second phase of the project will begin in January of 2017. During this phase, participants will solidify the details of their business. We will design a name and logo, choose crops to grow and create marketing strategies. A business plan and budget will be written to include a profit to maintain the business needs for the next year with surplus. The business will work as a cooperative model; any additional profit will be paid to participants in accordance with their hours worked. Participants will choose which crops they wish to grow based on terroir, impact on the environment and community needs. A budget will be created using the information they received during phase 1; participants will choose seeds based on crop diversity, purchase fertilizer and soil based on nutrient management, and determine other financial needs throughout the year. Participants will be encouraged to consider low cost options like composting and word-of-mouth and social media marketing.
Phase three of the project is where the planning and research will be put into practice. Mid-March 2017 participants will begin to plant seeds indoors and prepare the garden for planting. Depending on crops chosen, one or more garden plots will be secured in the Quann Community Gardens, a no-till community garden less than a mile from the Boys and Girls Club. The garden plot will be prepared during the early part of this phase with planting beginning in late May. During this time, participants will tend the crops and learn about the unpredictability of agriculture. Participants will be required to take detailed notes regarding what they learned, and they will use this to write a synopsis of their experience at the end of the project. Produce and value added products will be sold at the South Madison Farmers Market. As the season passes, each week we will take time to evaluate sales and determine changes that need to be made presently and for next year’s business. The ongoing analysis will be used to encourage peek profit and growth.
The partnership between STAR Credit Union and Slow Foods Madison will be the most valuable resource to this project. The agricultural information and details will be provided by Slow Food Madison, informing participants about sustainable practices and advising on crops to plant and gardening technique. Slow Food Madison can provide soil testing through a UW-Madison professor for educational purposes and to increase crop yield. STAR Credit Union will use Biz Kids videos on entrepreneurship, marketing and business practices and terms. In addition, students will have workbooks designed for the project.
Three local farmers will be a significant resource: Ted Ballweg, Robert Pierce, and Meg Kelly. Their knowledge of Wisconsin soil and crop trends will be invaluable. We will use their resources for both the economic and ecological portions of our project.
Evoke Brands will share their marketing strategies with participants with an emphasis on social media. The participant chosen to manage the blog will have more intense training from the Evoke team as well.
The South Madison Farmers Market will provide resources in fellow vendors, and provide an outlet to share knowledge to customers.
Finally, the Boys and Girls Club will provide space, participants, and community access for the project.
Grow Your Green is excited to share its resources and outcomes with other youth educators and the general public. During the project, social media will be the primary outlet used for outreach to the community. A participant and facilitator will work together to create a blog about the progress of the farm’s growth fiscally and ecologically. The blog will be a platform to raise concerns, share triumphs and pitfalls, and document our journey. A group of participants will form a social media team to keep followers updated on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These social media outlets will include tips for starting a business or garden, information on sustainable agricultural practices and recipes for using our products. There will be tutorials on issues faced and how they were corrected, as well as what worked well and how to apply the same positive practices.
The Boys and Girls Club works in area schools, and there will be outreach regarding the project to area teachers and facilitators in the schools. Outreach will include presentations, posters and videos. The curriculum STAR and Slow Foods Madison create for the project will also be made available.
The South Madison Farmers Market is designed to provide education to a demographic that would not otherwise have it. Outreach at the stand each week will be significant way to share the knowledge we learn.
Some of the most important outreach will be through the participants themselves. Each participant will be required to keep track of frustrations and achievements in order to provide a summation of their experience. The goal is to have participants participate in the project next year and lead the discussions with the new members, encourage growth and spread the knowledge of the sustainability and joy that agriculture and careers in that field can bring.
Student and Community Impact
The impact on students and the community for this project would be immense. Being in a food desert, the community surrounding this project has limited access to good, healthy food and even less knowledge about what that means for our environments and community. Other community agriculture programs have had success engaging this community in participating in gardening or signing up for a free CSA, but have had many issues with convincing the same group to take the produce. Community members oftentimes lack an understanding of ways to prepare and cook with the produce. This program seeks to educate the South Madison community about what to do with the produce, as well as seek their advice in bringing the foods they want to the area. Just as importantly, this project gives youth an opportunity to create something themselves that will not only enhance their future, but the future of generations after them. The beautiful thing about this community is how knowledge spreads. In addition to being educated about good food and good farming practices, students will also gain knowledge on entrepreneurship and business techniques.
The program will offer cooking classes and informational sessions for the community, and attendance at these events will be tracked. We will also take count of participants from the program who attend farm field and farmers market field trips.
A pre- and post-test will be administered to students, but the greatest measurements will come from profit. In order to be successful, this project will replenish the money needed to run the program next year, and gross a profit to pay the youth involved. The most important measure of effectiveness will be the synopses received by students at the end of the project, offering insight into their thoughts and feelings throughout the entire process.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Engage boys and girls situated in food deserts in Dane County with local food and sustainable farming.
- Provide youth participants with the knowledge they need to be successful in a sustainable agriculture endeavor including learning from farmers with successful businesses, learning about CSAs and other direct marketing options, researching community needs and matching product to demand.
- Create the opportunity for youth participants to have hands-on experience with the tools they’ve learned about to create a sustainable garden where they will plant, harvest and sell their produce at local area farmers markets and through CSAs.
- Share Grow Your Green’s resources and outcomes with a wider audience through social media, a blog about the project, presentations in area schools, and a stand at the farmers market.