Durham, N.C., Teens' Inner-City Organic Garden Feeds Their New Demand for Vegetables
In 200506, South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces (SEEDS) in Durham, N.C., expanded Durham Inner-City Gardeners (DIG)-a program that teaches teenagers about organic farming and healthy eating habits.
The organization also launched a companion project Youth Are What Youth Eat in which members of DIG performed skits about proper nutrition for other youth and children.
- The number of teenagers involved in DIG doubled to 20 in summer 2006 from 10 in summer 2005.
- The teenagers tried planting nine vegetables and many herbs for the first time, including squash, kale, chard, leeks, golden cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, eggplant, spinach and leaf lettuce.
- Ten of the teenagers altered their eating habits, and 19 changed their attitudes toward eating vegetables.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project with a $57,000 grant from August 2005 to August 2006.
Youth in Durham County, N.C., are more likely to be overweight than are their peers elsewhere in the state. Some 27 percent of children ages 2 through 20 are overweight in Durham County, compared with 17 percent statewide, according to a 2006 study from Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina Community Grants Program, sponsored by the North Carolina Division of Public Health.
The problem stems from a lack of access to fresh foods and nutrition education, making healthy eating habits difficult to achieve and sustain, according to Lucy Harris, executive director of South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces (SEEDS) in Durham, N.C.
In 2000, SEEDS' staff launched Durham Inner-City Gardeners (DIG) in Northeast Central Durham to teach teenagers healthy eating habits through hands-on experience in growing and selling organic produce.
SEEDS' staff also hoped to influence the eating habits of families, friends and neighbors in Northeast Central Durham, a low-income community whose residents are predominately African American and Latino.
Teenagers earn 10 percent of the money necessary to support the DIG program through the sale of produce at the Durham Farmers' Market. The remaining money comes from fund-raising efforts, according to the project director, Lucy Harris.
South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces (SEEDS) in Durham, N.C., expanded DIG-a program that teaches teenagers about organic farming and healthy eating habits.
The group also launched a companion project Youth Are What Youth Eat in which members of DIG performed skits about proper nutrition for other youth and children.
Durham Inner-City Gardeners
DIG is a year-round, gardening and nutrition-education project for teenagers. During the off-season, a skeleton crew of five teenagers planned for the upcoming growing season, which ran from March 30 to November 5.
During the growing season, teenagers worked 20 hours per week planting, caring for and harvesting vegetables, which they sold on Saturday mornings at the farmers' market in Durham Central Park. After the market, the teenagers prepared their lunch. They also took vegetables home each week to cook for their families.
The teenagers hired for the growing season were paid a stipend equivalent to $1 per hour less than minimum wage. Teens who remained in the program year-round eventually earned minimum wage. At the time, minimum wage in North Carolina was $5.15.
A part-time staff coordinator and two part-time staff members supervised the project.
- The project team scrapped plans to have a Wednesday mini-market in 2006 because few residents of the neighborhood shopped at it. Staff turnover at DIG also contributed to difficulties establishing the market.
- SEEDS staff did not have enough time to reach out actively to neighborhood groups, such as churches, which could help build neighborhood support for buying SEEDS produce.
Youth Are What Youth Eat
A subgroup of teenagers from the DIG program created, rehearsed and performed skits about eating fresh, healthy food. A staff member worked 10 hours per week on this project.
- It was difficult to recruit DIG participants to also participate in Youth Are What Youth Eat:
- Some of the teenagers were uncomfortable performing in front of their high school peers.
- The DIG project coordinator had not been involved in the planning of Youth Are What Youth Eat and discouraged many teenagers from participating.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided a grant of $57,000 from August 2005 to August 2006. Seven other groups, as well as individuals, provided a total of $36,627 in grants and donations. (See the Appendix.)
Project Director Harris reported the following results:
- The number of teenagers who participated in DIG doubled to 20 in 2006 from 10 in 2005.
- The teenagers tried planting nine vegetables and many herbs for the first time, including squash, kale, chard, leeks, golden cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, eggplant, spinach and leaf lettuce. Through a questionnaire, project staff learned that all but one of the youths (19) say their attitudes toward eating vegetables have changed and half (10) say their eating habits have changed.
- All of the youth took a variety of vegetables home to cook for their families. Some comments:
- "I don't eat a lot of food that's going to make me fat."
- "My favorite food at DIG is chard."
- "I didn't realize I like tomatoes so much I get in trouble for eating more Sungolds than I harvest."
- The amount of money raised through sales of vegetables at the farmers' market grew to $10,309 in 2006 from $6,878 in 2005.
- The 10 teenagers in Youth Are What Youth Eat performed 12 times for middle and elementary schools as well as after-school programs. Although the original intent of the program was peer-to-peer education, the high school students involved in the program only felt comfortable performing in front of middle and elementary school children.
- Seven teens and 17 family members attended a family feast in September 2005. The family feast was an opportunity for parents to help their children harvest vegetables for the farmers' market, as well as to sample food the teenagers had prepared. At the September 2006 feast, 10 teens and 24 family members attended.
Durham Inner City Gardeners
- To recruit teenagers for an organic farming and nutrition-education program, you should structure the experience as paid employment. SEEDS focused on hiring 14- and 15-year-olds because they have few job opportunities. (Project Director/Harris)
- "If you build it, they may not come," says Program Officer C. Tracy Orleans. Local promotions are needed to spur and support the use of neighborhood markets for community garden produce. Efforts to build demand for healthy fruits and vegetables are key to reaping the full benefits of innovative community-based gardening projects like those organized by SEEDS and Durham Inner City Gardeners. (Program Officer/Orleans)
Youth Are What Youth Eat
- If you want teens to perform in front of other teens, recruit from high school drama clubs because most teens simply will not get up on stage in front of their peers. (Project Director/Harris)
- Take the time to get buy-in of staff before launching a new project. The coordinator for DIG was unhappy because he was not involved in the design of the new Youth Are What Youth Eat program. As a result, he discouraged teens from participating. (Project Director/ Harris)
- Youth advocacy benefits from and requires careful nurturing and support. Youth should play key roles in defining the forms of youth advocacy that fit their skills, interest and communities. (Program Officer/Orleans)
AFTER THE GRANT
Both Durham Inner City Gardeners and Youth Are What Youth Eat continued following the RWJF grant.
SEEDS planned to launch a "truck market" to sell DIG-produced vegetables and produce to people in the Northeast Central Durham neighborhood in summer 2007. If the idea takes off, other vendors may be invited to participate.
Youth Are What Youth Eat was scheduled to perform at a show in fall 2007 for youth in 6th through 12th grades.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
A Teen-Led Inner-City Gardening Program to Increase Access to and Demand for Affordable Fresh Produce in an African-American and Latino Community
South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces (Durham, NC)
Dates: August 2005 to August 2006
In addition to RWJF, the following groups funded this project during calendar years 2005 and 2006:
City of Durham
Pi Alpha Xi Horticultural Honor Fraternity
North Carolina State University
F.M. Kirby Foundation
Durham Merchants Association Charitable Fund
Report prepared by: Linda Wilson
Reviewed by: Richard Camer
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: C. Tracy Orleans