While gardening with children is a boom industry, gardening with teens and even more with young adults is rare, at least in the working class and affluent neighborhoods that I’m in (there are lots of urban gardening projects for young people in inner cities). Hipster Supported Agriculture is my private little corner of the food movement. I work at rounding up teens through twentysomethings to do gardening and cooking.
This happens both in my own garden and through the Peterson Garden Project, a community garden and seed-to-table education program in Chicago. Last week we started planning and preparing for this year’s projects. At Mather High School, the biology teacher is leading a Service Learning (Community Service) group in seed starting– they’ve started more than 1,000 plants as a joint fundraiser for their club and the Peterson Garden Project. On Thursday I went to assess the progress, bring them some more seeds (generously donated by Renee’s Garden and Territorial Seeds) and to talk to them about winter sowing.
On Wednesday, I met with a working group from an organization that helps troubled teens. They have four group homes near Peterson Garden, and the kids from the program will be tending some plots for their own use and some for donations to food pantries. The exciting new aspect of the program this year is that they will be working with a nutritionist from Cooking Matters and a professional chef, who will help plan the garden and will work with the kids to prepare the food they grow.
As we were working through goals, plans, and philosophy, talking about the difficulties of working with these kids and how to engage them in the project, it occurred to me first that gardening is a wonderful metaphor for life, and then that in fact, it’s not a metaphor at all, but life itself. The non-gardeners around the table were very concerned about motivation, goals and buy-in, but I know what will happen once those young men and women see a seedling sprout from a seed that they put in the ground.
Like every gardener I’ve ever met they will be struck by the miracle. The first time they eat a meal from food they grew themselves they will understand. They will not need it explained to them.
Last year I was struck by the engagement, humor and searing intelligence of one of the girls in the pilot program–in another context this was a college-bound kid breezing through school. Her intellect was both apparent and heartbreaking, because she was a 15-year pregnant black orphan. It broke my heart. And then I heard, in this meeting, of how she was driving past the garden recently and excitedly pointed it out to her companion–”there it is! That’s the garden where we grew our meals!” Maybe not so heartbreaking after all.
Hipster Supported Agriculture is rather tongue-in-cheek. I named it that to poke fun at my own uber-cool children. But in reality it’s not really funny. It’s how we’ll save the world. Or at least our little corner of it.