Many studies have shown that the experience of growing food correlates with its consumption: the more experience people have growing fresh healthy food, the more likely they are to eat it. UACC’s Agricultural Education program teaches urban youth and young adults about agriculture and the value of fresh food, through hands-on activities and guided mentoring. UACC also provides a unique venue for young adults to prepare for future employment by offering a challenging yet supportive working environment that teaches general job readiness along with technical agricultural skills. By engaging young people from elementary school through high school, UACC can encourage them to make healthy food choices, provide a safe and unique place to learn, and give them a supportive starting point for future careers.
Most of the elementary school age children living in the neighborhoods served by the gardens attend Clark and Venable schools. Since 2008, we have partnered with teachers and students at Clark and Venable to start spring seedlings for planting in the UACC gardens. Students also visit the gardens on school field trips, and many return to volunteer outside of school. By working with children at school and at home, UACC engages them in a unique seed-to-table experience that continues throughout the entire growing season. For children who live in the Friendship Court and 6th Street neighborhoods, the gardens are located literally in their backyards. Year after year, neighborhood children have made up the core group of volunteers who help with everything from planting and weeding to harvesting from the plants they started from seeds in the classroom.
For local youth groups, UACC provides personalized service-learning opportunities that build teamwork skills and encourage critical thinking, while making a tangible contribution to the local community. UACC offers young adults the opportunity to learn about agriculture and develop valuable skills in a supportive environment. Over the past seven seasons we have hosted groups from a variety of organizations, including Abundant Life Ministries, Albemarle High School’s Young Men with Great Minds program, Charlottesville Therapeutic Recreation, the Girl Scouts, and People Places.
For young people looking for a first job, UACC also offers a summer internship in partnership with the Community Attention Youth Internship Program (CAYIP). Each year we mentor one middle school or high school age intern during a six-week paid work experience in the gardens. Interns spend nineteen hours per week working with UACC staff in the gardens and at market day, learning about growing food while developing basic job skills and the ability to work with people of all ages and backgrounds. In addition, interns receive one hour of soft skills training from CAYIP each week, during which they develop their interview skills, improve their ability to communicate with supervisors and co-workers, and evaluate their internship experience.
Beginning in 2014, UACC plans to offer a seasonal six-month farm apprenticeship for young people interested in exploring organic agriculture as a career. We are particularly interested in employing recent high school graduates from one of the neighborhoods where we work. From April to September, the Farm Apprentice will work side by side with the Farm Manager, learning all aspects of production, from starting seeds and harvesting to engaging neighborhood children and leading volunteers. Apprentices will earn a living wage while honing job skills that will serve them in whatever path they choose after high school.
 Bellows, Anne C., Katherine Brown, and Jac Smit. Health Benefits of Urban Agriculture. Portland: Community Food Security Coalition’s N. American Initiative on Urban Agriculture, 2004. Web. 8 Jan 2014. < http://community-wealth.org/content/health-benefits-urban-agriculture>.