By Kaitlin Thomas/Special to The Times-Independent
A typical busy spring at the Youth Garden Project includes back-to-back groups of classes, after-schoolers, community members, and volunteers. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, things are looking a little different.
With the closing of school, YGP canceled spring break camp, garden classroom field trips, and afterschool clubs. The volunteer program, and spring Weed n’ Feeds, are on hold. While the Youth Garden Project is missing the hundreds of children, families, and community members that pass through the site each spring to engage in seed-to-table outdoor education, the staff and interns are finding ways to support the community and continue to live out their mission of cultivating healthy children, families, and community through educational programs and the profound act of connecting people with food from seed to table.
Since fall 2018, YGP has taught a high school class each trimester. This spring’s course, Agriculture in Your Area, is still being taught through the school district’s online learning system. Kate Glynn, the course’s teacher and YGP VISTA employee, has found creative ways to keep students engaged in seed-to-table learning. Earlier this month students came and picked up plant starts from YGP for gardening experiments at home as a part of class.
The Youth Programs crew has put together several lessons for at-home garden-based education that are published online. Additionally, the crew is working on a “garden pen pals” initiative, where students are writing letters about their outdoor garden spring activities and YGP sends them off to the Canyonlands Care Center, in hopes to provide some connection for the residents who are in lockdown.
Julie Zender, Youth Programs director, was a guest in Mrs. Estenson’s second grade Zoom classroom where she introduced the activity concept. The crew is wrapping up the filming of educational videos that summarize the key learning concepts students would traditionally focus on during garden classroom field trips they attend in the spring. These are being sent to Grand County teachers and are akin to YGP’s own version of Bill Nye the Science Guy, featuring Professor Kale.
A central part of the YGP’s mission is food. With this value in mind, YGP has been able to plug into community needs. Over spring break, YGP organized and facilitated the distribution of free lunches two days per week at their site to youth while the school lunch program took a break. Additionally, YGP has been supporting the invaluable work of the Moab Valley Multicultural Center and their vital food distribution program. Staff are portioning out MVMC’s food donations for distribution, and storing perishables in the commercial fridge at YGP on a weekly basis.
YGP has also stepped in to participate in two entities of Grand County’s COVID-19 task force. YGP is leading a subgroup of food security focused on local food distribution and supply chain. The group includes local farmers and food system professionals. YGP is also involved with the childcare task force.
While YGP misses having people interact onsite and participating in hands-on learning in the garden, they are still keeping on with valuable work to support the overall community, including its present and emerging needs. After record-breaking sales at the annual plant sale, YGP is excited that many people are getting involved with local food by starting in their own backyards.
YGP is now moving toward preparing for their upcoming summer camp and other community programs, with necessary adaptations. While the camp will not be able to enroll as many youth as in typical years, it still looks forward to being able to provide the much-needed service to the community.
As the summer progresses, YGP is hopeful they will be able to enroll more campers.
For more information about YGP and what they have been up to during the pandemic contact Kaitlin Thomas at 435-259-2326 or email her at email@example.com. To get involved with garden pen pals contact Julie Zender, firstname.lastname@example.org. Garden classroom videos can be viewed by visiting the YGP YouTube channel.
Thomas is the executive director of the Youth Garden Project.