The overarching goal of this project is to bring together low-income youth transitioning to adulthood, members of faith-based communities, and university researchers, in a project designed to: a) provide training, employment, and improve health outcomes for vulnerable youth, b) offer opportunities for adults from faith- based congregations to address issues of social injustice, and, c) build community partnerships leading to a sustainable youth garden entrepreneurship program. A well-documented assessment of these efforts will lead to the development of a model for systematically evaluating and disseminating information about youth garden/faith-based collaborations. Using a CBPR design, this project will increase access to locally grown organic foods, and promote physical activity while providing training and education for youth at risk.
Aim 1 : The project seeks to take advantage of existing faith-based garden space and interfaith outreach collaborations to provide opportunities for vulnerable youth. Low-income Latino and non-Latino youth age 16- 22 will be paired with adult mentors from faith-based organizations to develop additional gardens to be planted, harvested, and marketed by the youth and their collaborating mentors. In each community, youth, mentors, and a project manager will negotiate decisions regarding garden space and preferred marketing methods (e.g. farmer's market, farm stand, buying club, or CSA program). Youth will be paid a summer stipend and participation in the project for two years will be encouraged. In Year-2 of the project, youth, mentors, and project personnel from both communities will jointly design and carry out an activity intended to present findings and encourage development of faith community/youth garden collaborations in other areas of the state.
Aim 2 : The project will provide multiple opportunities for adults to engage in """"""""faith-in-action"""""""" activities by partnering with youth in community building, training and education, site enhancement, business development and marketing, and participation in program evaluation and outreach. To facilitate marketing of produce and encourage healthy behaviors, youth and mentors will work with Extension Educators, health outreach programs, and/or Master Gardeners to learn about the nutritional benefits and uses of the produce grown in the youth gardens. Through education and work experiences provided to the youth mentors will to encourage exploration of health and economic opportunities provided by sustainable agriculture practices.
Aim 3 : Using Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) methods participating youth, their mentors, representatives of faith-based organizations, and project personnel will jointly collaborate in the final design of the gardens and entrepreneurial activities in each location, as well as in the development of a systematic evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the project. Through ongoing planning and evaluation activities, the goal is to disseminate a program development and evaluation model that would be appropriate for other faith community/youth-at-risk collaborations and contribute to long-term project sustainability.
Relevance By targeting low-income youth aged 16-22, this project will provide additional scaffolding to support a highly vulnerable population as they begin the transition to adulthood. Supportive adult mentors and opportunities for community engagement, microenterprise development, and project evaluation and outreach will foster a sense of purpose and increase youth knowledge and job skills. Additionally, the construction of community gardens will increase access to healthy locally grown foods and opportunities for vigorous physical activity for youth and mentors.