GrowCity, a paid youth internship program in Florida, is using urban agriculture to equip youth from low-income neighborhoods with interpersonal and work skills and community connections.
The internship accepts up to 15 youth each session who are between the ages of 14 and 18 years old. Sessions run for 12 weeks, during which interns focus on development in four areas: general gardening and soil care, public speaking, financial literacy, and preparing healthy meals with the produce they have grown.
The program is part of the Fruitful Field, a non-profit near Fort Lauderdale that started with the transformation of a small church’s property into an urban garden. The nonprofit runs a buy a share give a share CSA from the garden to help nourish the surrounding community.
Chris Reesor, Co-Founder and Founding Director of GrowCity, saw an opportunity to incorporate youth into the Fruitful Field’s mission and approached their executive director with the idea. The youth program launched in 2015, and Reesor eventually became the 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 hard skills but teaches the importance of giving back to our community.”
GrowCity partners with food banks, shelters, and churches to bring fresh produce from the Fruitful Field to neighborhoods that the interns call home. But garden work is sometimes foreign to youth raised in an urban environment. “In the beginning many are either confused…or dislike the work. That is until they see the impact they have on the community and beyond,” says Reesor. “We not only harvest for our CSA program but we also harvest 30 percent to 50 percent of what we grow [for] families in need and the homeless.”
The GrowCity youth are essential to the community efforts of the Fruitful Field. “We are here to grow, gather, give. Without GrowCity we wouldn’t be able to grow over 10,000 pounds of produce a season,” Reesor tells Food Tank.
The internship can also open future education and employment opportunities for the participating youth. Youth from low-income families face unique barriers to career development. And poverty rates for people under 18 years old are on the rise in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Research shows that the interpersonal skills and overall experience provided by programs like GrowCity can help reduce these barriers.
Reesor’s inspiration for GrowCity came out of his own journey to overcome barriers. He struggled in school because of dyslexia but was not 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 workforce,” Reesor says. “You learn where food comes from, how to make money and still give back, learn valuable communication skills through public speaking, and eat healthy delicious food!”
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Photo courtesy of the Fruitful Field