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By Craig Cramer
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  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Horticulture Section
Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) educators around New York are pilot testing a new curriculum that aims to teach youth gardening, leadership, and teamwork skills.

Project S.O.W. (Seeds of Wonder): Food Gardening with Justice in Mind focuses on teens who are looking for an experience that introduces them to how to grow food, while also laying foundations for them to explore and lead justice efforts in their community. Cornell Garden-Based Learning, based in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, developed the project.

“The young people we work with can expect to learn and lead, collaborate with others, and explore the power of their own voice,” says Lori Koenick, 4-H Youth Development Educator, CCE-Monroe County. Koenick is coordinating testing in nine counties statewide.

Through the activities in the curriculum, youth will not only learn the basics of growing produce, but they will also come to a better understanding of their local food system and the role they play in it.  Themes of stewardship, reciprocity, and gratitude guide the project.

“We hope to start with what youth already know, and then build upon that knowledge,” Koenick shares. “It is our intention to convey that you don’t have to do it all. We do not want young people to feel overwhelmed, but rather to feel empowered and that they can make a difference. By focusing on their strengths and interests they can take manageable actions for positive change.”

Youth engaged in the project are encouraged to take on a project of their choosing to share what they have learned. Projects could include growing some of their own food, collaborating with others to grow produce to sell locally, raising food to donate to a pantry or other venue that can distribute the produce to those in need, giving a community presentation, and more.

Koenick expects to incorporate the experiences of her fellow educators into the curriculum in time for release for the 2022 growing season.

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