Sustainable Agriculture Youth Workforce Development Program

Project Overview

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2017: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Lincoln Land Community College
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Manager:
Marnie Record
Lincoln Land Community College


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: youth education
  • Farm Business Management: farmers' markets/farm stands
  • Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities, quality of life

    Proposal abstract:

    Project Abstract

    Lincoln Land Community College will utilize existing high tunnel infrastructure to establish a hands-on sustainable agriculture training program for low-income, disadvantaged community youth in partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Illinois. During the twelve week program, participants will be introduced to all aspects of gardening from soil to harvest. The students will be given entrepreneurial experience through the management of a farm stand. In addition, in order to develop leaders and future employees, the kids will learn life skills such as problem solving, working in a team, communication, and time management.

    Detailed Project Plan and Timeline

    Students will learn about sustainable agriculture through twelve weekly sessions of hands-on training in all aspects of vegetable production from soil to harvest, and through entrepreneurial activities while managing a farm stand.

    In the course of regular time spent in the garden students will connect with natural systems; observe the role of wildlife in a garden setting; and practice sustainability by applying compost, re-using materials, and using integrated pest management techniques. Working in high tunnels during the cool season, students will learn how the local food system can become more sustainable as farmers are able to produce more locally. Participants will learn how high tunnel production minimizes the negative environmental effects of shipping food from across the globe, allows farmers to develop an income stream during the winter months when outdoor growing conditions are prohibitive, and creates a winter gathering place for the community centered on sustainable food production.

    In addition to hands-on training, participants will learn about sustainable agriculture directly from farmers and food producers in the region who earn a living in the sustainable agriculture industry. Students will hear first-hand from farmers how they manage their production to maintain a viable living, care for the land, and service their community.

    Students will learn about diversified vegetable production in high tunnel systems including processes from soil preparation to selling produce at the market. Program participants will practice applying compost and preparing the soil for planting using the appropriate tools. They will learn about seed selection for climate, pest and disease resistance, and growing needs; crop rotation; and companion planting. The students will practice direct seeding, starting seeds in trays, and transplanting, and will learn which technique is most applicable for each crop. In addition, students will learn planting requirements and timing for each crop including plant needs, growing length, seed spacing, and depth in order to have a variety of produce for their markets. The children will learn how to identify pest and disease issues as they arise and how to effectively manage the issues through sustainable methods. Students will learn how to recognize when crops are ready to harvest and how to harvest the crops grown. Finally, they will learn how to process and prepare each crop for market.

    In addition to sustainable agriculture production skills, program participants will be given hands-on entrepreneurial experience through the management of a farm stand where they will learn how to present themselves to and interact with customers, operate a cash register, manage inventory, weigh and measure production, and prepare for workplace expectations.

    Activities and Timing

    June 2016: develop and share program marketing materials
    Last week in June: purchase seeds and compost
    First week in July: finalize 12 week curriculum
    Last week in July: develop planting schedule
    August 15-September 15: being planting
    September 17: week 1 of program create teams; agriculture focus – soils and compost application; life skill focus – self-confidence
    September 24: agriculture focus – direct seeding and seed selection; life skill focus – respecting self and others October 1: transplanting; life skill focus – interpersonal skills

    October 8: agriculture program – farm stand management; life skill focus – personal responsibility
    October 15: agriculture focus – crop rotation and discussion with sustainable food producer; life skill focus – positive attitude and self-motivation
    October 22: agriculture focus – companion planting and cooking with produce; life skill focus – conflict management
    October 29: agriculture focus – pest management; life skill focus – teamwork
    November 5: agriculture focus – farm stand management; life skill focus - communication
    November 12: agriculture focus – disease management; life skill focus - cooperation
    November 19: agriculture focus – discussion with farmer; life skill focus – creative thinking
    December 3: agriculture focus – harvest and cooking with produce; life skill focus – problem solving December 10: agriculture management of farm stand; life skill focus – decision making
    January 2017: program evaluation

    Resources Used

    We will use our established relationships with Andy Heck of genHkids, formerly of Small Axe Market Gardens, and current farmer Gus Jones for Small Axe Market Gardens for consultation throughout the project especially in the areas of seed selection, planting schedule development, and problem-solving related to pests and diseases. In addition, we will use our established relationship with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance to identify additional farmers to involve in the project through their Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Illinois program and to assist with program outreach. We will work with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Illinois to identify participants for the program and to transport students to the Lincoln Land Community College campus. We will also work with the Boys and Girls Clubs to engage parents in the student learning during the course of the program in order that the adults invest further in their child’s health. We will draw upon faculty at the college in the areas of biological science, culinary, and business as needed to support student learning in the high tunnels.

    Three books will be utilized during the implementation of the program. Students will utilize and take home a children’s cookbook developed by culinary faculty at LLCC to enhance the vegetable production learning in the kitchen. In addition, the program instructor will utilize the Junior Master Gardener Handbook to develop daily lessons. Finally, The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman will be referenced in the planning of the production cycle.


    The Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Illinois has staff in nine area schools. The teachers and Boys and Girls Clubs unit coordinators at these schools will be invited to attend a program session to learn about what we are doing and how they can support the student’s learning in the classroom. The project will serve as a model for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Illinois to establish an on-going service-oriented sustainable agriculture program at their Central Unit location. In addition, results and information will be shared through the Illinois Farm to School Network newsletter with a reach of more than 160 individuals working on farm-to-school programs in the state of Illinois.

    Prior to the start of the program, a press release will be shared with LLCC media contacts. During the project, highlights will be shared weekly on the LLCC Workforce Development Facebook page and on the LLCC Community Garden webpage. At the conclusion of the program, the program learnings and results will be covered in an article published in the State Journal Register that LLCC staff write weekly in the Food section.

    Student and Community Impact

    Growing food and being engaged in the process of sustainable agriculture is a healthy, healing process that builds strong connections for individuals and communities. Research demonstrates that students who grow vegetables are more likely to eat them leading to healthier diets. One study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association examined children in 4th through 6th grades who attended a YMCA summer camp program called “Delicious and Nutritious Garden,” during which they worked in the garden, taste-tested fruits and vegetables, and used them to make their own snacks. Researchers found at the end of the 12-week program, 98 percent of kids said they liked the taste tests, 93 percent said they liked the cooking aspect, 96 percent liked working in the garden, and 91 percent said they actually enjoyed learning about fruits and vegetables.

    We will use a pre- and post-interview survey to determine the program impact on the participant, and will provide a written survey for the parents or caretaker of the participant to further determine the impact on the student and their family. In addition, a daily program record will be kept that includes participant numbers, guest farmers and educators, as well as comments made by participants that reflect learning and behavior change.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Establish a hands-on sustainable agriculture training program for low-income, disadvantaged community youth.

    2. Introduce program participants to agricultural career exploration and self-sufficiency, life skills, and entrepreneurial training through management of a farm stand.

    3. Engage students with sustainable gardening practices including composting, crop rotation, seed selection for climate, pest and disease resistance, and companion planting.
    4. Extend impact of program through a teacher workshop, newsletter, press release, social media posts, and journal article.
    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.