A summer and after-school program in Anaconda is aiming to get kids excited about growing food and growing business.
Youth Empowerment Services recently launched a gardening program through which middle- and high-school students can learn about building an agricultural business from the ground up, from seedlings to sprouts to market crops.
YES Director Karen McCarthy said that the full spectrum of growing and marketing vegetables has already been illuminating for students, many of whom had little experience with factors like seed money, cost of business, and the meaning of "profit" rather than gross income.
Nearly 30 students are enrolled in the summer program, according to McCarthy. She said that Abbie Phillip, the MSU Extension officer in Anaconda, is teaching gardening basics.
The logistics of indoor gardening have proven to be a learning experience for the organization too, said McCarthy. Snags with lighting and the proper nutrient mix led to two failed crops, and McCarthy is anticipating a learning period of as long as a year before the necessary factors are settled -- though she says the current crop has potential.
"They're learning all the things not to do," she said.
Current crops are basil, spinach, and kale, McCarthy said, and additional lighting will eventually allow for more levels of the indoor garden "tower" to be viable growing spots, possibly allowing for more variety, including herbs and lettuces.
The reason for gardening indoors, according to McCarthy, is to build something that can continue all year long without being subject to the vagaries of weather. With grow lights donated by the local police department, McCarthy says the group has virtually all they need without worrying about heating greenhouses in the winter.
Besides the gardening learning curve, McCarthy said that the inconsistent attendance has been a challenge, with some students showing up for nearly every lesson and others sporadically, requiring time built in to catch up those who were not present.
"We seldom have the same group twice," McCarthy said by email.
The program was initially funded by a $7,000 Gianforte Family Foundation grant. Catherine Koenen, the foundation's executive director, said in a press release that it's exciting to see kids learning about business and entrepreneurship. "Programs like this help them experience the value of hard work and learning how to respond when things don’t go as planned," she said. "They are being equipped to succeed in whatever the future brings them, and we look forward to seeing YES’s programs continue to expand."
Interested families can pick up sign-up forms at the YES website (www.yesyouthempowermentservices.com) or stop by Alive After 5 or the Community Market.