Grow Hope Urban Youth Farm
- Written by Joel
During the hot summer of 2012, at the invitation of "Hope For the Inner City", we began working with some teens to develop an urban garden project behind their building for their eight-week summer camp program. As the weeks went by and the young people were busy building raised beds, installing rain barrels, and planting veggies, something else, something much bigger began to grow out of our efforts together- the vision for an urban youth farm!
This year that vision became reality when we were able to offer paid stipends to a dozen young urban farmers and officially launch the Grow Hope Urban Youth Farm, right smack-dab in the middle of Chattanooga's vast urban food desert, nearly four miles from the nearest grocery store! The program empowers young people with a working knowledge of urban agriculture through a wide variety of hands-on experience in making compost, starting seeds, setting out plants, harvesting rainwater, and learning basic farm biz by harvesting and selling fresh seasonal produce through the Grow Hope Farmstand on Saturday mornings. Saturday's work always concluded with sharing a community meal together- a big pot of soup prepared by the young people using something fresh they harvested from the farm.
Besides providing hands-on learning opportunities in urban agriculture, another significant aspect of the youth farm program is raising awareness of the need to work for food justice in urban communities where residents lack access to nutritious fresh food. Many neighbors struggle below the poverty line but even in low-income communities people should be free to choose what they want to buy to eat and serve to the family. Without access to good food you are left with no choice, and that's what makes it a matter of justice. Your street address should not determine the amount of nutrition available to your household. Providing one little farmstand for neighbors to come to and buy culturally appropriate fresh food is a small step toward justice. It's a step toward self-determination. Paying some local youngstas to 'earn while they learn' as they develop pre-employment skills working on an urban farm producing food that's good for the neighborhood is a small step toward a good food revolution! We present the Grow Hope Youth Farm as one model for addressing food justice and as one small solution to the complex problems rooted in poverty.