This week, our first year of Dig It school year internships came to a close as our interns graduated from high school. In the 2016/2017 school year, our crew of 16 seniors from McKinley, Collegiate, and Soldan high schools racked up a cool 560 hours of service on the Gateway Greening farm, and they can see the impact. The garlic they planted in the fall is almost ready to be harvested, the fruit trees they pruned are filled with tiny green cherries, plums, and peaches, and in the words of one intern, “It’s sad we have to leave just when it’s getting good out here!”
Our teens explored a wide range of topics this year, including hunger and food insecurity, no-till soil management, medicinal herbs, and food policy. This highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of urban agriculture, and the connections between our farm and the diverse fields of ecology, biology, food science, public health, and business or nonprofit management. These are topics many teens don’t even know they’re interested in! One intern said, “I just signed up for this internship so that my friend wouldn’t be the only one at the info session, but Dig It has been interesting and fun and had made me more interested in environmental farming.”
Work-based learning programs like this can result in higher lifetime earnings and better postsecondary outcomes for youth, and we are incredibly grateful to the Career and College Readiness team at Saint Louis Public Schools for their support. However, Dig It STL school year internships benefit Gateway Greening as well. We have the opportunity to train the next wave of nonprofit staff and citizens that will keep our St. Louis food projects running for the long haul. Young people who never would have sought us out on their own have the opportunity to realize that they are interested in our mission. Even if our interns never set foot on a farm again, we hope we have cultivated an affection for land and food that sticks with the students for life.
Written by Carolyn Cosgrove-Payne, Teen Programs Coordinator