In summer 2016, a crew of five high school students worked in Grand Acres community garden in Fair Haven through a partnership with the city’s [email protected] program. The students put in twenty-five hours per week for five weeks building an attractive fence, compost system, and new garden beds. We were listening when the teens asked for more hours. We noticed how they arrived to work early. When we gauged their interest in part-time work during the academic year, their responses were not hard to read.
New Haven faces higher unemployment than both the state of CT and the nation, and the statistics are bleakest in the city’s low income neighborhoods: 17% according to the most recent CARE and DataHaven Community Wellbeing surveys. In addition to concerns about general employment, New Haven residents are concerned about prospects for youth. In response to the survey results above, the CARE Community Forum developed recommendations that include “[exposing] youth to alternative careers” and “building a sense of social responsibility among young people”.
Growing Entrepreneurs, the New Haven Land Trust’s new year-round job program for youth, was created to meet this need. The teens advance the mission of the Land Trust through business ventures in urban agriculture as they gain entrepreneurial and green job skills—not to mention the profit they earn, on top of their wages. While we are focusing on selling food to restaurants and food trucks in Fall 2016, the program creates space for the entrepreneurs to explore and pilot various business ventures, such as growing the seedlings for the Land Trust’s 50+ community gardens, selling ready-to-plant raised garden beds to private residences, and processing value-added products. Our first Growing Entrepreneurs are Xavier Hernandez, Sadilka Lopez Roldan, Ajarano Smith-Bowe and Yaritza Santiago. Xavier and Sadilka are employees of the Land Trust. Ajarano and Yaritza are funded through Common Ground High School’s Green Jobs Corps.
Going forward, one priority of the program is to find a business model that will create many more youth jobs. Another priority: considering the complexity of exploitation of people and the environment, historically and presently, in agriculture. What business model can address food injustice, where our interest in securing a fair price for crops by approaching buyers that are willing to pay more for a local product conflicts with the urgency of meeting the need of people in our community looking for affordable produce? Can we incorporate practices in the garden that help to mitigate climate change? These are not simple questions to which we already have the answers. The New Haven Land Trust is looking to our creative and resourceful Growing Entrepreneurs to envision and pursue the future of urban agriculture in New Haven as they realize their own potential.
If you are interested in sourcing from us/want to learn more, please contact: [email protected]