Reporting Bill Hudson
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – You don’t need to step foot into a rural corn field to teach kids about farming. Just swing by the Emerson Place Garden in North Minneapolis, which occupies a corner lot in the middle of a busy neighborhood.
It’s what is known as an urban garden, and it’s a place where hands get dirty and the work is hard.
Deneisha Gilkey is among the teens that take part in a program called “Project Sweetie.”
“It’s really a process,” Gilkey said. “You just can’t just put it in the ground and expect it to be there the next day, it takes a while. You got to nurture it.”
Growing produce, from tomatoes to broccoli, is just the start. They also learn about the advantages of composting garden and table scraps over applying chemicals.
Yet, beyond the physical toil of weeding, watering and cultivating the crops, the 100 young people in the program are also taught how to market what they’ve grown. Each Wednesday and Sunday, the vegetables are harvested and sold at the nearby Broadway farmers market.
For those kids who don’t like growing the food, there are lessons in cooking it. Culinary skills are being taught by mentors like chef Jeff Riley.
“We try to emphasize the entrepreneurial spirit … the selling of quality stuff, quality food and quality life,” Riley said.
To prove the nutritional benefits of organic cooking in a demonstration, chef Cynthia Johnson turned avocados into chocolate pudding. Using a combination of coconut milk and cocoa beans, it was sweet and creamy without the need for refined sugar.
Those behind the garden say that urban gardening can help nurture the seeds of the area’s economic growth.
“This is how you build a community from the ground up, by getting young people involved at an early age and just saying we’re not gonna wait on anybody; we can do this,” said Robert Woods, a development director.
Row by row, plant by plant, Project Sweetie Pie is sowing the seeds of change and helping kids like Brandon Brown understand that feeding a hungry world is a job that will never expire.
“If we can find more efficient solutions to growing food, then I think everybody wins,” Brown said.