Hope Lives in Youth Garden Projects

| April/May 2003

Recently I attended the “Ripe from Downtown Symposium” in Cleveland. Sponsored by the Cleveland Botanical Garden, it sought to bring together people from across the country who work with youth garden projects.

My reason for attending this conference was to present two programs on youth garden projects. As the subject of youth gardens can cover a wide range of projects, prior to presenting at the “Ripe” conference I began a dialog with various people from similar projects around the country to discuss their definitions for a youth garden. I visited with folks at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Minneapolis, where I found that their youth garden project is primarily a teaching garden. I visited with folks in San Antonio and Philadelphia, where their gardens are completely hands on.

After visiting with many others in similar projects, I soon came up with a firm idea for what constitutes a youth garden project; I also discovered two distinct differences of opinion about such gardening projects. The philosophy of one, which I came to call the “Minnesota Model,” involves building displays that entice children to come and see the plants and roots and learn how the garden grows.

The other, which I call the “Philadelphia Model,” assigns a piece of land to each child, or a communal piece that they work on together, and the children are taught how to plan, till, plant, tend and harvest a garden. Both models have great merit and each uses a very different approach.

When I arrived in Cleveland, I admit I was expecting the conference to be peopled mostly with administrative types along with lots of well-meaning volunteers. What I found, instead, was a hard-working bunch of dedicated adults and children. Imagine my surprise at finding that a symposium on youth garden projects would actually include kids!

The children—ages 10 through 18—who came to this symposium were not kids wishing they were elsewhere. They didn’t hang back, looking as though they felt their lives would be improved if they could just get their hands on a PlayStation 2. No, these kids had notebooks; they asked questions; they followed the adults around and asked for clarification. There were kids from 29 states, this time with adults in tow. They brought with them displays of their own, examples of what they produced in their own gardens.

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