Knowledge, Empowerment and Growth: THC’s Youth Garden Programs

Resident Services Coordinator, Nkem Offor, gardening at Fort View in 2013

THC launched its Youth Gardening Program on March 27th, 2014. Our gardens at Webster Gardens and Fort View were designed to foster healthy living, teamwork, and leadership skills. Our gardens feature organic produce and flowers including lettuce, tomatoes, arugula, peppers, watermelon, and sunflowers. The kids in the gardening program have been enjoying the opportunity to see their hard work pay off. Resident Services coordinator, Nkem Offor says gardening has allowed the kids to have a “sense of ownership” as they see their seeds come to fruition. The kids also get really excited to eat what they grow. “Instead of a regular snack, they eat salads that they handcraft from their harvest,” says Offor.

Gardening is a great way to positively benefit the health, well-being and development of children in urban areas. Low income and homeless youth are more likely to have limited access to resources that promote wellness and resident community involvement. According to the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, community gardens can aid kids in three very important areas: relationships and interpersonal skills, cognitive and behavioral competencies, and education.  At THC, we are proud to say that our youth gardening programs have been successful in promoting the value of these skills.

Interpersonal skills:

The gardening program has given THC the opportunity to help children learn the value of effective communication.  Kids work in groups and give each other assignments to complete their tasks. Community gardens are also a great way to foster community relationships and support. Particularly for children who live in urban areas. The gardens provide a safe and constructive environment for them to engage with their peers practicing mindfulness, resourcefulness and patience. The garden at Fort View has been in the neighborhood for the past 30 years and neighborhood residents are able to visit the gardens and participate in its maintenance.

Cognitive and behavioral competencies:

Researchers at the University of Michigan School Of Public Health, suggest that the impact of community gardens may help to offset the environmental risks associated with growing up in urban poverty. The characteristics of a neighborhood have been identified as something that can promote a young person’s resilience, despite stressors associate with urban living (Allen et. Al).

Researchers theorize that the impact of a neighborhood’s context has the most impact during adolescent years. Adolescence is a fundamental period of identity development in which young people begin to explore their individuality, consider future opportunities and solidify learned behavior (Allen et. Al). The garden also gives them a sense of independence as Offor ensures that all the kids have a chance to participate in a leadership role to have a say in how things are run.

Education:

DC Food Deserts Map

With 24% of DC residents living in what food-policy advocates refer to as food deserts, having access to fresh, nutritious food options is of great importance to our families at THC. Participating in community gardens gives kids an opportunity to learn about food in exciting ways. Being able to plant, tend to, and harvest the crops themselves, they have more of an incentive to eat nutritious foods and learn to

appreciate them for the health benefits they have. Researchers also found that it was helpful for kids to engage in a constructive activity, particularly during the summer months when recreational activities are hard to come by. Summer is the busiest time of year for THC’s gardens. The kids have more time to be active in the gardens and participate in additional workshops headed by our volunteers.

Volunteers and staff are hoping to expand the gardening program even further, with additional workshops at both locations. The programs run for about an hour and a half every Monday at Fort View and every Tuesday at Webster Gardens. If you are interested in getting involved in THC’s gardens, email us at volunteer@thcdc.org.  

 

 

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