It has been an idea of mine for some time now to photograph something groundbreaking in the community. Recently, I was fortunate to stumble upon the iGrow Youth Farm of Tallahassee, Florida. The garden is managed by a few dedicated adults and ten or so unlikely gardeners: local high school students. They team up twice weekly to work, plan, and sell their produce. I was immediately drawn to them because they are an integral part of something else growing in Tallahassee: community gardens! Luckily, I had the chance to spend some time with them to learn what they’ve learned, to feel their sense of community, and to try to understand why they like gardening.
The teens are very knowledgeable about the processes of gardening. I really loved the details they shared: how the compost works, why there are several layers, why it shouldn’t dry out, and why it needs oxygen and nitrogen. One high school student explained how a local garden is much more cost effective than a commercial store. There is literally much less overhead, as there is no “big-box” to pay for. Also, there is no middle-man: the teens harvest the food when the customers stop by for their orders. Food doesn’t get any fresher, and that makes the teens proud.
This is a magnificent opportunity for youth to experience food in a whole new way. They are learning when to plant, thin, and harvest crops, as well as how to do everything else that goes with a garden. However, there is much more to do than just grow food. Each Monday they get the chance to cook a meal together using the foods they’ve grown. The gardeners are even sharing in the chore of building a shed to store their tools and supplies. The adult team leader working with them on the shed has built houses with Habitat for Humanity, so the teens are getting the added bonus of learning carpentry skills from someone with experience. He is definitely making sure the work is done right, too. The last time I visited them, they were creating a gradient to the land to prevent water from settling underneath the shed.
Most importantly was the insight into what they liked about the garden. The students are well aware of the garden’s benefit to the community and are pleased to share with the neighbors who frequently keep an eye out for the garden area. Of course they appreciate reaping the edible rewards of all their hard labor as well. One teen mentioned the fascination of seeing broccoli for the first time outside of a grocery store. Others liked getting outside, getting dirty, and other various aspects that reminded them of being in the country. My absolute favorite response was related to compost: a student’s fascination with the alchemy behind composting. By combining many different separate recognizable pieces, we get something completely new yet still familiar – soil. It reminded me of building a community, which is exactly what these students have accomplished.
If anyone is interested in supporting the iGrow Youth Farm, don’t hesitate to visit them! They are located on Dunn Street in Tallahassee, and you can find them tending to the garden every Monday and Friday afternoon. Available at the garden are many varieties of greens, carrots, chives, chard, parsley, lettuce, and kale. If you are interested in having your own garden, the teens will build and install raised beds for customers who request it. If you don’t have space for a real garden, they also sell iGrow buckets — self-watering container gardens — pre-planted with tomatoes with a built-in trellis for customers who would like to ease their way into gardening. Maybe with a little help from the iGrow Youth Farm, you can say “I grew something" too.