Talandra Jennings and Infinity Gamble couldn't contain their excitement as the 11-year-olds showed off the zucchini picked from the East High Youth Farm on a recent morning.
It was the first vegetable harvested from their section of the farm, which consists of a number of gardens in an area next to Kennedy Elementary School. The two girls, who will be sixth graders at O'Keeffe Middle School, are working at the East High Youth Farm, which is a hands-on science and vocational program focused on sustainable agriculture and service learning.
"We help plant. We help wood chip and sometimes we trellis tomatoes and we harvest," Talandra said. "I'm out here doing something instead of being a couch potato."
Middle and high school students are involved in the entire process of running the small-scale organic urban farm from raising seedlings in the East High School greenhouse to harvesting produce at the quarter-acre farm and then washing and packing the food for delivery to the Fritz Food Pantry at the Goodman Community Center.
It's a partnership between Community GroundWorks at Troy Gardens, East High School and Goodman Community Center. Community GroundWorks, which manages Troy Gardens on the north side, and the other groups were interested in creating a garden for older youth in the area previously used by East High School's agriculture program.
About 25 students are working at the farm this summer. The middle school youth are part of a leadership program at Goodman, some of the high school students are involved with the farm during the school year and some students just help out in the summer. UW Madison doctoral student Sarah Jacquart is working with some of the youth as part of a study looking at the effects of gardening on physical activity and diet. Kennedy Elementary students will spend time in the gardens this fall.
Megan Cain, who runs the program with Kitty King, a special education teachers at East, wants the participants to see how food is grown and to make a larger connection with the seasons while being outside and getting "hot, sweaty and dirty - the stuff you do when you're a kid."
The youth taste the food they grow so some are being introduced to kohlrabi and other vegetables for the first time, Cain said. The farm includes a large shed, picnic tables and a solar oven so the group can do some simple cooking.
So many vegetables are being grown at the farm - 3,000 onions are in the garden now, Cain said - that the group plans to set up a vegetable stand at East High School this fall to raise money for the program.