Sustainable Agriculture Internship Including Study of Compost Nutrient Cycling in Urban Agriculture

Project Overview

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2018: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2020
Grant Recipient: Spark Youth
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Manager:


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: municipal wastes, nutrient cycling, nutrient management
  • Education and Training: youth education
  • Energy: byproduct utilization
  • Natural Resources/Environment: drift/runoff buffers, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Soil Management: composting, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, leadership development, partnerships, quality of life, social networks, sustainability measures


    Last summer Spark-Y facilitated our most successful summer internship yet. 26 youth joined us to engage in real-world community projects and hands-on learning about sustainability. Of those 26 youth (all of whom were paid competitive stipends), 16 were local high schoolers and 10 were college students from around the country. The interns were divided into five project groups:

    1. Building a new timberframed aquaponics system for Spark-Y's Urban Agriculture Lab
    2. Managing the school gardens and aquaponics systems at three public schools in Northeast Minneapolis
    3. Designing and running a 3 week summer camp program for Columbia Heights middle schoolers focused around aquaponics, fish and plants
    4. Building a new aquaponics system for a corporate CEO's office
    5. Designing and installing a rain garden at Roosevelt High School and caring for the Roosevelt urban farm

    Interns spent Wednesdays and Thursdays working on their projects, and we all came together on Tuesdays for workshops and extended learning opportunities. Tuesday workshops included exploring vermicomposting, mycology, permaculture design principles, and a field trip to visit locations like Frogtown Farms and The Good Acre. In addition to these sustainable agriculture topics, we had guest speakers from local companies come in to teach project management skills, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills.

    Beyond our normal internship structure, this funding from SARE allowed us to participate in a special partnership with the University of St Thomas. We chose our Roosevelt High School internship team as the best fit to partner with St Thomas based on their research needs to install lysimeters below ground to monitor phosphorous. As the team was digging out space for the rain garden at Roosevelt, they were able to install lysimeters, collect data and participate in the larger research project.

    By the end of the summer, all 26 interns crossed a stage, shook Mayor Frey's hand, and received a Spark-Y Sustainability Certificate. At our Open House event, interns presented their work and discoveries to a bustling room of 150+ community members. Each intern team also wrote up a blog post explaining their work(here's an example from the rain garden team: Keep Calm and Rain On, others can be found at; many of these included personal testimonials about the power of their experience. Many parents at the Open House voiced that they hadn't heard much about sustainable or organic agriculture before, but were now interested in learning more and supporting their children in gardening at home or in the community. More quantitatively, our interns grew over 150 lbs of produce using organic practices and engaged with 250+ community members. Interns and the St Thomas research team determined that the samples collected from the Roosevelt lysimeters had very low dissolved phosphorous (Effect of WTR on Nutrient Retention) and were able to use this data in the larger study which concluded that water treatment residual is effective at removing excess phosphorous from leachate. 

    Project objectives:

    1. Provide student interns with project management, entrepreneurial, and sustainable systems training.
    2. Empower students to educate and inspire their communities through presentations demonstrating that green
    agricultural systems are both approachable and offer return-on-investment.
    3. Provide student interns with real-world project management experience, including client relationships and completion of deliverables, to equip them to successfully champion sustainable causes.
    4. Collaborate with a University of St. Thomas research group on nutrient study to ascertain how efficiently phosphorus from organic compost is recycled, with a goal to establish parameters that maximize yields and minimize pollution/runoff.

    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.