Dig It STL is Gateway Greening’s teen employment program where teens work for eight weeks on building knowledge about urban agriculture, food access issues, and community leadership.
On Dig It STL’s first day the team played a game where they had to name another team member when a blue tarp was lowered between them. The team, initially shy, warmed up as they raced to shout an opponent’s name as soon as their head peeked over the tarp. While the game is fun and spontaneous, it also serves a vital purpose in helping the crew begin to feel comfortable with each other.
The teens come into the program unfamiliar with each other and with a variety of interests. Some teens come into the program passionate about the environment and wanting to save the world. Others are interested in plants and growing food. And many want to learn public speaking and leadership skills.
In the Dig It STL program, the teens learn about all of these things and more. During the first week of the program the crew created a community contract. This contract details the ways they will treat each other and themselves. They also did a variety of icebreakers and team building activities so that the crew can begin to bond.
The program includes frequent workshops that focus on environmental, interpersonal, and farming skills. They range from Soils 101 to learning how to give a great elevator speech.
“My favorite part is the workshops because you get to see environmental science concepts applied to agriculture,” said Joe, a Dig It STL crew leader.
The teens also receive feedback from staff and other fellow crew members during an exercise they call “straight talk.” During straight talk, the teens also cultivate emotional intelligence by reflecting on their own progress and goals.
But it’s not all workshops and team building for the Dig It STL teens. They also take field trips to local farms, gardens and organizations. Joe says that he is particularly excited to visit Flower Hills Farm, a sustainable and organic flower farm. The field trips are designed for teens to learn more about sustainable agriculture. They also get to see the variety of opportunities available to them in the field.
However, most of the work that the teens do revolves around keeping the Gateway Greening Urban Farm running. They do a lot of weeding, watering, and harvesting, as well as learning the practices required to keep an urban farm running. These practices include irrigation, natural pest control, and crop rotation.
All of this knowledge will aid the crew as they perform their final project as Dig It STL members, a teen led harvest. This will be the first year that the program will culminate in a teen led harvest. This will ensure that the teens both understand sustainable agriculture practices and have gained leadership skills through the program.
“The harvest will allow the teens to use the leadership skills they’ve gained, as well as use their knowledge about agriculture in a self-directed way,” said Carolyn, teen programs coordinator.
Ultimately though, building a loving community in which the teens can learn to both respect others and themselves is the goal of the program. Building community is vital in creating a city where people can collaborate to eliminate hunger and inequality. Within a loving community, it is possible to address these large issues because people are committed to the mission and each other, regardless of individual differences that could otherwise cause division and fragmentation.
Though not all of the teens will become best friends, that’s not the point. Fostering redeeming goodwill for all does not require friendship or affection, just commitment to improving the city and community one lives in. And solving issues like hunger requires such a commitment. Food and the natural world create connection.
And no one says that better than Alana, a crew leader of Dig It STL.
“When you bring people together in the outdoors, they bond.”
We added a high school internship program to Dig It StL, read more here: