Urban students learn to farm at school

February 11, 2011 3:44:40 PM PST
The Chicago area has yet to thaw out from the blizzard, but some students are gardening outdoors.

When you think about after school activities for urban students, farming may not be the first thing to come to mind. You might think differently after you see how these young people live green -- even when the temperature drops.

It may not look like growing season, but for these students gardening is in full swing.

"I started it two years ago and I loved it and I keep coming back," Tajuana Scarelli, junior, Walter H. Dyett High School.

Students at Dyett in the Washington Park neighborhood are working with instructors from the Chicago Botanic Garden. The installation of a new hoop house adjacent to the school allows them to get their hands dirty all year around.

"I was like I want to see like how crops grow in the winter 'cause I think that's impossible. But, as you can see, it's not," Qhasia Washington, junior, said.

"We got this hoop house which covers it from the air out there. So outside, it may be like two degrees or zero degrees, but in here it's like 60 degrees," Terrance Young, junior, said.

The students are raising organic vegetables -- arugula, spinach and other winter greens. Students say it has been an eye-opening experience.

"Before then, I didn't really eat spinach. The only thing I really ate was corn and carrots and anything else I didn't eat and now since we're growing it they had me always testing the foods," Keshaundra Neal, sophomore, said.

In addition to hands-on experience working the farm, students also get lessons in leadership through Green Youth Farm.

"A big component of what we do at GreenYouth Farm is team building because the students are coming in they may never have put their hands in the soil before. They may never have eaten anything that was just in dirt. They may have never touched a worm or even worked with a group of peers in a work-like setting. What the team-building is meant to do is sort of bring everyone to the same playing level," Eliza Fournier, Chicago Botanic Garden, said.

Dyett Principal Robert McMiller says he was initially hesitant about the gardening program. He now beams with pride because of the impact it is having on his students and the community.

"People come through and they stop. They inquire, 'What is this?' And our students say, 'Well this is our farm.' And for urban students to be able to say, 'It's our farm,' and so forth, it's really been something and the community has embraced it," McMiller said.

The students' crops will be sold to community members in their farmers' market and to several local businesses.