After cancelling all summer programming in 2020 due to COVID-19, Garden of Youth returned for it’s tenth anniversary in 2021. Garden of Youth is a ten week job skill development internship program for students 16-21 with IEP’s. Interns practice soft job skills in small groups with a dedicated job coach, earning money as they learn. As they plant, maintain and harvest in eight school gardens across the district, interns learn a new job and garden skill each week. Interns must submit a résumé, interview and complete Job Readiness Training before beginning their internship. This year, we celebrated 23 interns completing the program.
Interns learned about companion planting through the traditional method of planting corns, beans and squash together, also known as the three sisters. The plants grow better together as each gives to and receives from their companions. Interns created habitat for native bees and other pollinators and artwork using seeds and other plant materials based on natural patterns. Teams also engaged each other through competitions such as identifying insects and other invertebrates and weeds with the winning teams receiving Chipotle lunch.
Due to COVID regulations their weekly meetings went virtual and they did not sell their produce at local farmers markets. Instead, the produce went home with the interns and to local food banks. Once the school year began, several schools participated in the Garden to Cafeteria program, bringing fresh, local and organic produce to student lunches. Garden of Youth is a partnership between ACEConnect, Sustainability Team and Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.