Globally, 55% of people reside in urban areas where access to nature is limited by the built environment (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2018). Consequently, food skills such as growing food, meal planning, food preparation, willingness to try new foods, and general food systems knowledge is eroding as people reside farther away from agriculture. Lack of exposure and access to healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables results in limited consumption. As a result, people may choose fast, processed, and convenient foods, and can suffer negative diet-related consequences. Improving access to healthy foods and opportunities to develop food skills, such as growing and preparing food, has been shown to increase attitudes toward and preferences for these foods (Heim et al., 2009). In urban areas, this can be achieved through schoolyard and community gardens. There is growing interest in the benefits of urban agriculture for youth education as evidenced by the schoolyard garden movement. Garden-based experiential learning activities are increasingly being used in schools to improve youth attitudes toward healthy foods and exercise, to help develop environmental awareness and enhance academic learning, and to promote personal and social development (Blair, 2009). However, these programs are typically targeted toward grades kindergarten through fifth grade and are more prevalent in high-resource communities (Rogers, 2018). Few garden-based models are available for engaging young teens. Consistent opportunities for engagement throughout childhood development would undoubtedly reinforce the positive attributes associated with garden-based education and should be available to youth as they age.
North Minneapolis, MN, or the “Northside,” is a diverse and culturally rich geographic area in the northwest section of Minneapolis, MN. This area is composed of 15 distinct neighborhoods and is home to 60,000 residents. North Minneapolis has a history of targeted economic disinvestment and racial segregation. As a result of this inequity, a number of issues remain salient to this community, including employment opportunities, access to healthy foods, access to quality healthcare, and public health and safety (University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, 2018). North Minneapolis has twice the poverty rate of the City of Minneapolis as a whole and struggles with a host of disparities related to access to educational opportunities and career pathways. Based on 2010 city census data, Northside community residents identified as 57% black or African American, compared with 18% for the City of Minneapolis as a whole. Asian and Pacific Islanders make up 17% of the community, compared with 5.6% citywide (Minnesota Compass, 2019). In addition, 40% of the community is below poverty level, compared with 20% citywide. This community is designated as food insecure based on low income and lack of availability of nutritious food (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2017). The GNM program is an example of a community-driven effort to help alleviate some of these issues through youth education and outreach connected to urban agriculture in Northside community gardens.
Experiential learning and learning outside the classroom activities are considered important to develop the “whole child” (Malone, 2008). A review of the current literature shows that these experiences help youth learn, improve social interactions, contribute to emotional well-being, provide opportunities for physical activity, and promote better behavioral responses (Malone, 2008). Experiential learning is defined as “a process that develops knowledge, skills and attitudes based on consciously thinking about an experience. Thus, it involves direct and active personal experience combined with reflection and feedback.” (Malone, 2008). Garden-based experiential learning opportunities can be adapted to serve the needs of young teens in urban areas and can continue to reinforce or introduce food skills while also developing workforce skills, professional development, and personal agency, and simultaneously provide a pathway to college. In our program, we combine garden-based experiential learning with an out-of-school summer program that provides youth with paying jobs and the ability to build professional skills. This article outlines the GNM summer program as a case study for intergenerational mentorship that includes garden-based learning with older youth (14–15 years old). We provide examples of student learning that took place as an outcome of the 10-week-long summer program in 2018 and highlight successes and challenges experienced by youth.
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