Growing food, growing themselves

OLYMPIA: Gardening program helps keep kids in school, raises self-esteem

Staff writerMay 23, 2011 

Ask youths what they’ve learned after a year of hard work on the GRuB (Garden-Raised Bounty) farm in Olympia, and you probably won’t hear an answer about agriculture or plant science.

“I’ve learned to get rid of shyness and speak in front of large groups,” said Arael Field-Borodin, 16, a junior at Capital High School in Olympia.

“I have learned a lot about who I am as a person, and a lot about how I interact with people,” said Mallorie Shellmer, 17, a junior at Timberline High School in Lacey.

“I’ve learned how to trust people,” said Alma Barragan, 18, a senior at Olympia High.

The teens are among 30 or so young people who are part of GRuB’s Cultivating Youth Program, an employment and dropout-prevention program with the theme, “farming self, farming land and farming community.”

During the past year, they have worked with GRuB staff members and volunteers to help grow, harvest, sell and give away nearly 10,000 pounds of farm-fresh vegetables, berries, fruits, herbs and flowers.

In addition, the youths have helped build kitchen gardens for low-income families, led tours at the GRuB farm, gave presentations at community events and developed strong friendships with one another.

“I love this program,” Field-Borodin said. “It’s like a family.”

GRuB was formed in 1996 by Blue Peetz and Kim Gaffi, both graduates of The Evergreen State College. Peetz’s agricultural know-how and Gaffi’s expertise in grant writing sprouted into an effort to fight local hunger with healthy, locally grown food.

Over the years, the organization has developed a curriculum that includes team-building, public speaking and other social skills.

“It’s not about turning them all into farmers,” Peetz said. “It’s education that builds community.”

Next month, Olympia High School will launch a two-year pilot program in which students will earn high school science, social studies and elective credits by working at the GRuB farm during the summer and half of the school day.

The program is geared toward helping students who are disengaged with high school, said Olympia High principal Matt Grant.

“Through farming and learning about food and food justice, I think they learn a lot about their community and themselves,” he said.

The 2.86-acre farm grows a variety of fruits, vegetables, berries and flowers.

Students get to take home some of the harvest; for some, it’s a way they can help their family.

“For some, food really is an issue in their lives,” Grant said.

Shellmer said one of her favorite parts about working at GRuB is the bus ride home – when she’s covered in dirt and sweat.

“I feel very accomplished, and strong and tired at the end of the day,” she said.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433
lpemberton@theolympian.com

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