Sitting on 11 acres of land in North Boulder, Growing Gardens is a nonprofit organization that works to cultivate community by connecting people of all ages, abilities, and income levels with fresh food, the knowledge of how to grow and cook with it, as well as food donations. It also works to cultivate the community through urban agriculture in Boulder and Longmont.
The variety of programs that they offer touch the community in a diverse host of ways. The organization manages 11 community gardens throughout Boulder county. They run a children's program that includes field trips, summer camps, and school day of classes, as well as horticulture therapy, community gardens, adult cooking classes, and a food donation program, called the Growing Gardens Food Project, working to increase food security in Boulder County. They also run The Cultiva Youth Project.
The Cultiva Youth Project brings together 42 students in Boulder and 8 in Longmont to run a farm, harvest their fields and put on a 22 week-long Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, available to the community. Perhaps most importantly, the students are paid for their work.
The program is designed for youth from ages 12-18 and works to teach them life experience and job skills such as leadership, time management, community service, and teamwork through seminars, hands-on cooking classes, and (quite literally) fieldwork.
In a conversation with Megan Reynoso, a Growing Gardens Program Coordinator, we talked about the specific impact that the programming has on the youth of Boulder and Longmont. The program focuses on teaching students that community and leadership can be fostered, tended to and cultivated with love and care, while also serving the community through service projects and food donations to local nonprofits such as WIC, There With Care, and EFFA.
As the kids spend their time together they not only learn necessary job skills, they work to build a supportive community amongst themselves.
One position that particularly facilitates this is the role of the Youth Leader. Returning participants of the program, after a certain age, have the opportunity to take on an additional level of responsibility. The young leaders support their crew in the field, come up with a plan for the day, and are responsible for maintaining a good attitude, usually in the form of a run through the sprinkler. The program focuses on nurturing young leaders to not only be responsible for their work but responsible for the people around them.
Paige Sanchez, a Youth Leader in the program explains, “I was able to experience the growth and cultivation of not only the fruits and vegetables but of the people I met along the way.”
She continues to comment on the impact the program has made on her.
“I used to be so shy that I wouldn’t talk to anyone outside of my friend group unless I absolutely had to. Now, I’m leading my own [farm crew] and feel confident doing so. The amount of confidence and leadership my time with this program has instilled in me has completely changed my attitude beyond words.”
While only one of their many programs, Growing Gardens’ Cultiva Youth Project provides an essential service to both youth and the greater community. The program simultaneously nourishes our youth to become strong leaders while fostering a connection to the land and fresh food.
The result? An invaluable relationship between the community, our kids, and our food.