GrowCity prepares youth work with urban gardening – Food Tank

GrowCity, a paid youth internship program in Florida, uses urban agriculture to equip young people in low-income neighborhoods with interpersonal and job skills and community connections.

The course accepts up to 15 young people at each session aged between 14 and 18 years old. Sessions last 12 weeks, during which trainees focus on development in four areas: general gardening and soil care, public speaking, financial literacy, and preparing healthy meals with the products that they cultivated.

The program is part of Fruitful Field, a nonprofit organization near Fort Lauderdale that began by transforming a small church property into an urban garden. The non-profit organization runs a stock purchase, donates CSA share of the garden to help feed the surrounding community.

Chris Reesor, co-founder and founding director of GrowCity, saw an opportunity to integrate young people into Fruitful Field’s mission and approached their executive director with the idea. The youth program launched in 2015, and Reesor eventually became Fruitful Field’s next executive director. He tells Food Tank that they wanted to provide “the community with a youth program that not only teaches basic soft and technical skills, but teaches the importance of giving back to our community.”

GrowCity partners with food banks, shelters and churches to bring fruitful field-fresh produce to the neighborhoods interns call home. But gardening work is sometimes foreign to young people brought up in urban areas. “At first, many are confused…or don’t like the work. That’s until they see the impact they have on the community and beyond,” says Reesor. “Not only do we harvest for our CSA program, but we also harvest 30-50% of what we grow. [for] families in need and the homeless.

The youth of GrowCity are essential to Fruitful Field’s community efforts. “We are here to grow, to gather, to give. Without GrowCity, we wouldn’t be able to grow more than 10,000 pounds of produce per season,” Reesor told Food Tank.

The internship can also open up future education and employment opportunities for young participants. Young people from low-income families face unique barriers to career development. And poverty rates for those under 18 are on the rise in the United States, according to the US Census Bureau. Research shows that the interpersonal skills and holistic experience provided by programs like GrowCity can help reduce these barriers.

Reesor’s inspiration for GrowCity came from his own journey of overcoming obstacles. He struggled in school due to dyslexia, but wasn’t diagnosed until later in life. He found that outdoor environments helped him absorb lessons more easily, and now he uses that setting to help others. “What an amazing way to be introduced to the job market,” says Reesor. “You learn where food comes from, how to make money while giving back, learn valuable communication skills through public speaking, and eat healthy, delicious food!”

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