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Seeds of Change

November 24, 2014

Three years ago, Denzel Mitchell was facing a summer locked in a youth detention center for burglary. He chose the alternative – to spend a summer working for the Seattle Youth Garden Works program. Hear about the impact the program had on Denzel , and what his future holds now.

“My parents weren’t always together, my dad was always locked up, and so I started hanging around the wrong people because at one point I got greedy and I just kept breaking into people’s houses trying to find different ways to improve my financial funds.” said Mitchell.  “Once I got myself into trouble I got a probation officer and summertime came along and she told me I had three options – I could get a job, go to school, or get locked into detention for the summer. I filled out one application, and it was for Seattle Youth Garden Works” he said.

Team members weeding

The program, run by Seattle Tilth, helps at-risk youth overcome barriers in their lives through gardening. Like Mitchell, many participants have experience with the juvenile justice system and come from a background of instability. Other participants are in the foster care system, have experienced homelessness, or generally lack the support they need to advance.

Youth are empowered through being responsible for the garden’s produce from seed to sale. Planting seeds, gardening, harvesting vegetables and selling them at local farmer’s markets are all entrusted to the participants. Mitchell says at the beginning, he thought he would only be doing labor tasks like weeding, but after learning about the process of growing vegetables and taking ownership, he was hooked.

“At first it didn’t really click with me, but something told me to keep coming” said Mitchell. “After I kept coming and started understanding what the vegetables are for, started understanding what they do, how they grow – the variety, different types, what makes the vegetables work. I just learned so much and it made me fall in love with the garden” he said.

Nutrition, cooking classes, and off-season general education classes are also part of the program.  Program Manager Kristen Roewer says there are a lot of chances for young people to show their strengths to be a part of a bigger system.

 Participants are not just laborer, they also learn about plant life cycles, nutrition, and food justice.

“I think the program speaks for itself in that young people get involved and they want to stay involved.” She said. “They first come to work on a farm, and later learn about cooking food, and really they’re participating in every aspect of the food system,” says Roewer.

Participants are encouraged to try new varieties of produce.  Participants prepare and eat lunch together every day.

Mitchell is currently a program assistant for Seattle Youth Garden Works and their parent organization, Seattle Tilth. He is managing farmer’s markets booths, giving community speeches, and talking to others about food justice and food access. “It’s clear that he’s has really found a place where he can showcase his strengths as a leader, and it’s been just really amazing to watch” says Roewer.

“I feel a big responsibility, I feel like the food is a part of life and without the food, there wouldn’t be no us” Mitchell says. “In my future I want to own my own garden, I want to grow my own food, I want to have my own program where people learn, and make it worldwide, make a difference. That’s my goal – make a difference”.

Seattle Youth Garden Works is a year-round program of Seattle Tilth. For more information visit their website at seattletilth.org/sygw.

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Made possible in part by

Stacey Jenkins

Stacey Jenkins is the managing producer of Spark Public. She is an Emmy-award winning producer who is passionate about pushing the boundaries of digital media and training the next generation of multimedia journalists. Stacey has been a Digital Content Producer at KCTS 9 for the past four years; her stories have been showcased locally on IN Close as well as nationally on SciTech Now and the PBS NewsHour's Art Beat. Stacey’s experience also includes working as a senior producer for KPTS, as an assistant media instructor and producer for Portland Community College and a TV news reporter for the CBC in Canada.

Fun Fact: Stacey’s guilty pleasures include over-the-top Halloween decor, eating sweetened condensed milk straight from the can and Maroon 5’s “Sugar” video.

More stories by Stacey Jenkins

There are 3 comments

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Thank you for sharing about this inspirational young man and the program he is leading. Excellent and timely story!

Love it!!

Great program!! This article does a nice job describing the program and how it makes a big difference. Support Tilth, volunteer at the farm! YAY! :)

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