Local Youth Grow Both Food and Businesses

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Providing HOPE offers Youth Apprentice Program in Long Branch High School

"It was really fun learning how to turn seeds into something a customer would want to put on their plate."

“The dog ate my school work,” has taken on new meaning for Long Branch High School students. And, while dogs may not eat their work, plenty of people do.

Thanks to an innovative new Youth Apprenticeship Program offered by Providing HOPE, eight students learned the fundamentals of agribusiness in a five-week summer session that included both growing and marketing fresh produce at the West End Farmer’s Market.

“We completely sold out every week,” said one program participant. “It was really fun learning how to turn seeds into something a customer would want to put on their plate.”

This isn’t the first program Providing HOPE, a Monmouth County non-profit focused on public health, has introduced into the Long Branch school district. “We have been working with the schools for about five years and now have organic garden classrooms in all seven schools,” said Sandra Lynch, program director for the project. “This project introduced aeroponic growing for the first time.”

Aeroponic gardening grows plants without the use of soil. “This is an innovative process for growing food that requires less space, but it involves a complex mixture of air, mist and minerals that has to be mastered and continually monitored,” Lynch explained.

Providing HOPE constructed a special aeroponic greenhouse at the Joseph M. Ferraina Elementary School for the Youth Apprenticeship Program, with plan to offer instruction throughout the school year. “One of the many benefits of aeroponic growing is that it can be done year-round,” said Rosemary Sherman, the president of Providing HOPE. “It is also easy to harvest, and the indoor environment means fewer insects and better yields.”

This is essential at a time when the need for healthy food is clear. In fact, the USDA announced recently that the demand for fresh produce has increased 76% since 2008. In communities like Long Branch, where residents are at a high risk for both obesity and type 2 diabetes, “access to fresh produce is quite literally life-saving,” Sherman stressed.

“We know that the demand for fresh, safe, organic and locally-grown food continues to grow,” Sherman explained. “Our goal with the Youth Apprenticeship Program is to develop job skills in a cutting-edge industry.”

In addition to growing food aeroponically for sale at the market, Youth Apprentices also tended the seven soil-based school gardens and donated the harvest to local food sites. “More than 500 pounds of food was donated, and it is very empowering for youth to know they are making sure kids like them don’t go to bed hungry, especially in the summer when they don’t have the benefit of school lunches.”

This is a big focus of the project, Sherman said. “Of course, we hope to train high school students to be experts in the field of both growing organic food and growing their own businesses. But, ultimately, we really want to create leaders who will advocate for food security in their communities and teach others the importance of healthy diets and life-styles.”

A second summer 5-week series is now in session. Sherman said the long-term plan is to integrate the program into the district curricula, especially with special education students. “Agribusiness is a perfect fit for many with special abilities. “

Youth Apprentices were paid a stipend of $250 for the session, but came away with something more valuable. As one Youth Apprentice shared, “I earned confidence in my ability to be the best in any job I take on, and not settle for less.”

For more information about the Youth Apprentice Program or Providing Hope contact us @ (732) 268-7235 or visit http://www.providinghopenj.org.

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Sandra Lynch
since: 04/2013
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