In our 21st-century world of technology, digital images, blogs and uncertainty … children, teens and adults are craving contact with the earth, green space, fresh air, exercise and sunlight. They’re also, in my experience, looking for an opportunity to participate in something--an activity, group or organization that not only satiates this need, but also works to solve the larger, environmental problem caused by our world civilization and its life practices.
Kids intuitively understand the need for green, chemical-free space. They intuitively understand it improves their quality of life, is better for their health and, on some innate level, makes them feel better. It’s hard for adults to measure these factors, but we too know it’s true.
Kids also intuitively understand they are inheriting a world and environment made worse, not better, by the activities of several generations. They fear, or at least believe, the mess is going to be left in large part for them to clean up. Because of their age, they want to be part of the solution, but don’t really know how to start or even get involved.
Luckily, people like you and others in like-minded organizations have recognized this need and are working to fill the void. One way, the way we advocate, is to develop a program that builds work-learning partnerships between kids and adults, programs that integrate social justice, inclusion and sustainability, using green (or greener) technologies.
Successful work-learning programs are staffed by dedicated adults who, first and foremost, view their work not as summer programming, but as a valuable experience providing its participants with life skills. Moving beyond compost and sugar-snap peas to lessons in conflict resolution. Moving from tolerance to acceptance. Learning to communicate and live in our changing world.
For most programs, the starting point for these life lessons begins with enrollment. Leaders often adopt policies of diversity and inclusion--making room for kids of all ethnicities, religions, languages, social classes and physical/mental abilities.
The actual programs vary in detail, but normally include the establishment of micro-enterprises (small businesses)--socially conscious operations that give back to the communities in which they operate. Here are just a few of the many organizations following this program:
* Added Value/Red Hook, Brooklyn, N.Y.--operating urban farmers markets and a mini-farm, and bridging the digital divide
* Growing Power (my organization) in Milwaukee, Wis.--working with youth (ages 9-23) in hands-on sustainable agriculture, life skills and economic incubation.
* People’s Grocery in Oakland, Calif.--programs ranging from a mobile grocery store to environmental activism
* Rooted in Community, San Francisco, Calif.--national network of youth-centered, environmental organizations
* The Food Project, Lincoln, Mass.--building youth leaders through sustainable agriculture
All these organizations fuse principles of open green space and community-operated land stewardship, sustainable/local/chemical and GMO-free agriculture, leadership development, economic-business administration, marketing and food security.
The youth who participate in these programs net long-term positive results--higher graduation rates, increased physical fitness, better understanding of nutrition, ability to lead and succeed with confidence and determination in their endeavors as adults. Having experienced throughout their development how to solve problems with the long term in mind, they understand the far-reaching impact of their work in gardens and the environment on the individual, community and ecological systems.
As more of the world's population relocate to cities, leaving behind agrarian roots, the urban parks, open spaces, recreation and enrichment programs have the potential of including green/sustainable technology, supporting local/regional food systems, and providing economic and food security for all. The power of your role and the potential impact are incredible.
Possible results from any program you may develop could include:
* Youth-to-youth peer education around local, healthy organic gardening, agriculture, heath/nutrition and food justice
* Entrepreneurial and life-skill development
* Increased awareness of local family farms and organic farms
* Youth learning from adults how to produce food, healthy soil and flora locally through urban agriculture
* Youth teaching and sharing their knowledge with adults
Erika Allen is the Chicago Projects Manager for Growing Power. She can be reached via e-mail at Erika@growingpower.org
Start Your Own Program
If interested in starting a program in your community, check out these resources. Many of these organizations offer step-by-step instructions to help you through the process.
1. Added Value, www.added-value.org
2. Community Food Security Coalition, www.foodsecurity.org
3. The Food Project, www.thefoodproject.org
4. Growing Power, www.growingpower.org
5. Rooted in Community, www.earthisland.org/ric/localgroups.html
7. People’s Grocery, www.peoplesgrocery.org