GrowCity, a paid youth internship program based in Florida, is offering a unique opportunity to young people from low-income neighborhoods. The program is designed to equip interns between the ages of 14 and 18 years old with valuable interpersonal and work skills, community connections, and a passion for urban agriculture.
The internship, which accepts up to 15 youth each session, lasts for 12 weeks. During this time, interns focus on developing skills in four key areas: general gardening and soil care, public speaking, financial literacy, and preparing healthy meals using the produce they have grown.
GrowCity is part of the Fruitful Field, a non-profit located near Fort Lauderdale that was established by the transformation of a small church’s property into an urban garden. The nonprofit runs a buy a share give a share CSA program from the garden to help nourish the surrounding community.
Chris Reesor, the Co-Founder and Founding Director of GrowCity, saw an opportunity to involve youth in the Fruitful Field’s mission and approached their executive director with the idea. The youth program launched in 2015, and Reesor eventually became the Fruitful Field’s next Executive Director. He explains that they wanted to provide “the community with a youth program that not only teaches basic soft and hard skills but teaches the importance of giving back to our community.”
GrowCity partners with food banks, shelters, and churches to bring fresh produce from the Fruitful Field to neighborhoods that the interns call home. However, for many youth who are raised in an urban environment, garden work is sometimes unfamiliar. “In the beginning many are either confused…or dislike the work. That is until they see the impact they have on the community and beyond,” says Reesor. “We not only harvest for our CSA program but we also harvest 30 percent to 50 percent of what we grow [for] families in need and the homeless.”
The GrowCity interns are vital to the community efforts of the Fruitful Field. “We are here to grow, gather, give. Without GrowCity we wouldn’t be able to grow over 10,000 pounds of produce a season,” Reesor explains.
The internship can also open up future education and employment opportunities for the participating youth. Youth from low-income families face unique barriers to career development, and poverty rates for people under 18 years old are on the rise in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Research shows that the interpersonal skills and overall experience provided by programs like GrowCity can help reduce these barriers.
Reesor’s inspiration for GrowCity came from his own journey to overcome barriers. He struggled in school due to dyslexia but was not diagnosed until later in life. He found that outdoor environments helped him absorb lessons more easily, and now he uses that setting to help others. “What an amazing way to be introduced to the workforce,” Reesor says. “You learn where food comes from, how to make money and still give back, learn valuable communication skills through public speaking, and eat healthy delicious food!”
Overall, GrowCity is an excellent program that helps youth from low-income neighborhoods gain valuable skills, experience, and community connections while fostering a love for urban agriculture. It provides an excellent model for other programs to follow in their efforts to reduce barriers to career development for young people.