HAMPTON — About 200 Hampton high school students will get hands-on this summer at a new community garden — the first youth program of its kind in the city.
It all started with a simple idea: planting tomatoes.
Erica Spencer, senior director of business development at Hampton’s office of economic development, and Tanisha “Sunny” Golston, the city’s workforce development specialist, decided in August to create a program that would increase the percentage of students gaining industry certification or entrepreneurial skills in a community activity.
Through the Healing Hampton Garden Initiative, students will learn a craft they can showcase on resumes and job applications while earning money. At the same time, the program aims to teach teens about accountability, responsibility and discipline, while encouraging community involvement in youth economic development and violence prevention activities.
How will all these lessons be brought together in one program? Tomatoes, Spencer said.
“Students won’t just be turning over dirt,” Spencer said. “You are responsible for your row of tomatoes. So if your tomatoes die, it’s up to you.
Dozens of students from Hampton’s four public high schools and its 16 career-focused academies will meet from June through October. They will test and till the land, grow vegetables — cucumbers and peppers are also tentatively planned — and start a small business to sell the produce at a local farmer’s market in the fall.
Other aspects of the program will include building a fence and shed, designing shirts for program participants, soil testing, preparing harvested vegetables into meals, and a financial literacy course.
“We asked ourselves what we could do – outside of giving them a basketball or sending them swimming to summer camp – that would actually teach our young people something that can go beyond summer” , said Spencer.
A 350 square foot lot at the Kingdom Celebration Center was donated for student use by Faith-Walk Hampton, an interfaith group of pastors who serve Hampton Roads.
“They had kids ready to go and no place to go,” said Kingdom Celebration Center pastor Frank Holloman. “So, we thought what better than to step in.”
The land was dedicated as a community garden in late April. This vacant lot was expected to see activity as early as Memorial Day weekend, when construction students from Kecoughtan High School were expected to begin constructing the fence and shed.
“We try to get kids involved in using their hands, kinetic types of things,” Holloman said. “We know that our youth today are a wide cross section, so if there are any who are interested in agriculture, we want to tap into that.
The Hampton Office of Economic Development also partnered with the city’s Office of Youth and Young Adults, which secured a $10,000 grant to fund the program.
Latoya Delk of the city’s Office of Youth and Young Adults said her office got involved because the garden would create better outcomes for young people – her office’s core mission.
“We’re taking an unconventional approach to supporting young people, but it’s a win for everyone,” Delk said. “There are many students in the school system who will benefit from this garden and the support it provides.”
Delk described the program as a cross-community collaboration that will ultimately reduce community violence committed by youth and young adults by “helping these young people thrive and succeed.”
“We all need to come together to collectively address some of the issues that we see within our community and our youth,” Delk said.
Through the Hampton Youth and Young Adult Office, 67 participating students will be enrolled in the city’s youth summer employment program. They will be paid $11 an hour to tend the garden for 20 hours a week.
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When not engaged in hands-on work in the garden, students will be in a classroom learning financial literacy.
“Part of the program is to make them understand that if you make $100 but have $80 in bills, then you don’t have $100 — you have $20,” Spencer said.
About 150 students from Hampton’s career-focused academies will use their contributions to the initiative as course projects related to their specific academic background. These students will not be paid, but will complete a course requirement.
Supervision and instruction throughout the summer will be provided by the Hampton City School Cooperative 4-H in conjunction with the Hampton Police Division, Hampton City Council, faith leaders and small businesses of the region.
Spencer said her office had been very selective about who they asked to “come to the table” to participate with the students.
“We wanted to make sure that these companies and individuals had the intention of working with these students all summer long,” Spencer said. “It’s not a photo opportunity or just a one-time thing. If you go out, you work. Get some gloves, get some weed killer.
Caitlyn Burchett, 727-267-6059, firstname.lastname@example.org