- Education and Training: youth education
- Farm Business Management: farmers' markets/farm stands
- Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities, quality of life
Lincoln Land Community College utilized 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 Club of Central Illinois. During the program, participants were introduced to all aspects of gardening from soil to harvest, food system concepts, and culinary preparations of farm produce. The students participated in weekly taste tests to learn seasonality and adopt preferences for new foods. The students were also given entrepreneurial experience by staffing a campus farm stand. In addition, in order to develop leaders and future employees, the kids learned soft skills such as problem solving, working in a team, and communication through farm program activities and connecting with college leaders.
Through this program, students increased their knowledge and abilities for growing and cooking farm food, and developed a preference for new foods and farm grown foods. For example, through a pre and post program survey, the percentage of students who reported being able to explain how to make compost increased by 206% and the percentage of students who reported being able to harvest a tomato without damaging the plant increased by 191%. Of the three culinary skills measured (trimming and cutting green beans, chopping and preparing a potato, and using a blender) students reported an average increase of 107%. In addition, of the five foods measured (beets, cucumbers, carrots, sage, and fresh juice) students reported an increase of liking the foods by an average of 78%.
When given the opportunity to practice skills for growing, cooking, and tasting sustainably grown foods in an atmosphere of discovery, students like participating in the activities, gain confidence in their abilities, and develop a foundation for being healthy, environmentally-connected individuals.
Students reported intentions to grow food, assist with cooking duties, and work with their parents to eat more farm grown foods. One student shared at the end of the program, “I learned about growing food. I don’t go outside much and didn’t know anything about it. Now I can grow my own vegetables.”
Project objectives:div style="margin-left:1em;">
- Introduce program participants to agricultural career exploration, food production for self-sufficiency, and entrepreneurial training through instruction in sustainable agriculture, culinary education, and farm stand management.
- Engage students with sustainable gardening practices including composting, crop rotation, seed selection for climate, pest and disease resistance, and companion planting.
- Develop workforce and soft skills such as budget management, self awareness, employer needs, and career assessment.
- Extend impact of program through teacher education, newsletter, press release, social media posts, and journal article.