Courtesy: Grow Dat

Grow Dat offers kids a chance to learn about urban farming and hunger.

FOCUS: Renewal  bug
Stories of Urban Reinvention. See full coverage

In a city that is perhaps the country’s most culturally rich, it is a bit surprising that the large city park in its heart is called, well, City Park. But don’t mistake the generic name for a place devoid of special activity.

Indeed, at the heart of City Park is the much more colorfully named Grow Dat Youth Farm, which is developing a sense of responsibility, community, environmental stewardship, and service among city high school kids through the collaborative work of growing food.

Grow Dat grew out of a partnership developed between the Tulane University City Center, the New Orleans Food and Farm Network, and City Park.  It’s program is pretty sophisticated. From Grow Dat’s website:

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 . . .

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.

The students must commit to a work schedule, for which they are paid. In addition to the work they perform on site, they are expected to take their experience to the larger community:

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’... 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.

The farm enjoys a central location accessible by public transportation.  It is located on a four-acre site in City Park, with two acres of cultivable land.

Grow Dat’s most recent quarterly report notes the friendly competition that the students have had at a local farmers’ market to see which crew could sell out first, and also that every kid had the opportunity to prepare and serve their produce at a free monthly breakfast hosted at a local church. Over three months they served over 300 meals, learning "important, and sometimes surprising, lessons about what the face of hunger in our community looks like."

With the assistance of the Tulane School of Architecture, buildings on the site have been designed to serve the program. The campus includes green building innovations for the facilities, including an outdoor classroom, a teaching kitchen, locker rooms, administrative offices, and large post-harvest handling areas.

The students have grown over 7,000 pounds of food, donating a third to needy families; still under development, Grow Dat hopes to produce up to 40,000 pounds by 2014. So far every participant has reported satisfaction with the development of leadership and work skills. Watch this great video about the farm and its program, and hear the kids talk about their experiences:



This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. An aisle in a grocery store
    Equity

    It's Not the Food Deserts: It's the Inequality

    A new study suggests that America’s great nutritional divide goes deeper than the problem of food access within cities.

  2. Life

    Amazon Whittles Down List of HQ2 Contenders to 20 Finalists

    The list skews toward larger cities and metropolitan areas along the Eastern corridor, stretching as far north as Toronto and as far south as Miami. And it looks like some of the economic incentives might be paying off.

  3. A small accessory dwelling unit—known as an ADU—is attached to an older single-family home in a Portland, Oregon, neighborhood.
    Design

    The Granny Flats Are Coming

    A new book argues that the U.S. is about to see more accessory dwelling units and guides homeowners on how to design and build them.

  4. Transportation

    On Paris Metro, Drug Abuse Reaches a Boiling Point

    The transit workers’ union says some stations on Line 12 are too dangerous to stop at. What will the city do?

  5. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, recovery from Hurricane Maria has been uneven.
    Environment

    Disaster Resilience Saves Six Times as Much as It Costs

    A new report finds that federal disaster-mitigation grants produce an average of $6 in societal savings for every dollar spent.