There’s a local youth agriculture program that has goals bigger than getting kids into farming. Milwaukee native Nick DeMarsh founded Young Farmers MKE with the intent to encourage participants to make goals and plans for the future – farming just seemed to be the perfect medium to get there.
The program is part of Groundwork Milwaukee and teaches kids about nutrition, ecology, and farming practices. Students then sell the food they’ve grown at a weekly farm stand, which teaches kids how to manage a small business and helps develop their entrepreneurial skills. But DeMarsh says the program really came together once he started to listen to what his participants wanted.
“In this world, which is very commodified, in order for these young people to see an inherent value in the food that they’re growing, they need to see an economic value. So for me, that involved what I think is really critical, which is listening to them and what it is that they value and what their perspective is,” says DeMarsh.
What has come from listening to his participants is what DeMarsh hadn’t even expected: “It became a really great tool for community engagement. The young people are selling their food to their neighbors and their neighbors get to know these young people. It helps to erode a little bit of the stereotype that can happen when you have large gaps between generations,” he explains.
Farming is a great backbone for life skills and it requires patience.
The lessons learned through Young Farmers MKE goes beyond agriculture. “The urban agriculture and entrepreneurship is the center piece, but we use that as a hub to spoke out into different avenues for engagement,” says DeMarsh. “My hope is this serves as the platform for the young people to find out what it is that’s really important to them.”
But of all of the avenues to get a kid to find…