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,” he says. “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."
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," DeMarsh says. "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 out what’s important to them, why farming?
He says, “Farming is a great backbone for life skills and it requires patience. This day and age, things are so instant that [patience] is a really amazing skill to develop - to be able to put a seed in the ground, make sure that plant grows to be healthy, and learn when things don’t quite work out."
“But when things do work out, a couple months later, or really, a couple years later because it’s a multi-year process, then they’re seeing overtime, ‘Wow. If I really dedicate myself to this, I can see the progress, and I can take this food home and help my parents make a healthy meal,’” DeMarsh happily reveals.
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