Building upon the existing K-8th grade food education programs in New Orleans, most notably the Edible Schoolyard, Grow Dat Youth Farm creates job opportunities for high school students in the field of urban agriculture. The farm provides a space for students to apply the interests and skills they have developed in previous cooking and gardening classes outside of the classroom. It also creates a healthy and supportive work environment for high school-aged youth from New Orleans who face limited job opportunities. With a focus on developing a sense of responsibility, community, environmental stewardship, and service among participants, the farm enhances leadership and teamwork abilities through the collaborative work of growing food.
The farm works with several high schools and youth organizations throughout New Orleans to recruit a diverse and committed group of youth who develop leadership and life skills during their intensive, hands-on work experience. Through a structured application process, Grow Dat conscientiously recruits a mix of students: 20% of whom have already demonstrated leadership skills inside or outside of school, 20% of whom are at- risk of poor performance at school, and 60% of whom are students that are neither excelling nor failing at school. Programmatic success is defined by students’ consistent participation in the program, their increased ability to communicate effectively with other students and staff, and their ability to achieve production goals on the farm.
In the pilot year, Grow Dat partnered with New Orleans Outreach and Science and Math Charter School to recruit applicants for thirteen paid internship positions. The number of internships will increase over time as the amount of land under cultivation increases, providing 30 jobs and cultivating almost two acres of land by 2013.
Following the programmatic structure of two nationally recognized youth farm models, The Food Project in Boston and Urban Roots in Austin, Grow Dat recruits, interviews and hires youth during the fall semester and operates between January and June. During the school year, youth work one day a week after-school and on Saturdays and four days a week during the month of June. For their time, youth are paid $50 per week during the school year and $200 per week over the month of June.
Over the 19-week program, youth participants learn a variety of skills related to growing, cooking and selling organic vegetables and fruit. Full time Grow Dat staff have created a curriculum that includes lessons on sustainable agriculture, cooking, communication and team- building, economics, nutrition and community health, food systems, and the agricultural history of our region. Guest educators from Tulane University and the wider community lead workshops in their specific area of expertise, thus enhancing the foundational lessons taught by Grow Dat staff.
Working in rotating teams, students take on the responsibility for selling food at farmers’ markets and preparing food for homeless or underserved populations. In addition to these hands-on activities, students also participate in a highly-structured system for enhancing their communication skills called “Real Talk”. Modeled on a highly effective program developed by The Food Project, “Real Talk” is the method through which Grow Dat staff provide feedback to participants about the quality of their work and the tool that trains participants to communicate effectively with peers and supervisors. In addition to improved communication skills, students are also trained on time management, effective strategies for team work, and public speaking–all skills that can be broadly applied in future jobs.
“Student participation in Grow Dat obviously results in more than produce and stipends. The self-esteem, growth and development I saw in our students make this a stellar program. Thanks to Outreach for partnering with them.” –Science and Math staff member Teri Mojgani