Chicago Botanic Garden’s Green Youth Farm

In the heat of summer, the Chicago Botanic Garden has students digging, weeding and exercising their green thumbs as part of the Green Youth Farm.

The one-acre farm is located in the Greenbelt Forest Preserve off Green Bay Road in Waukegan. Youth from various Chicago public high schools come together every summer for hands-on experience planting, harvesting, and gardening. The students are exposed to real-world work situations such as cooking and nutrition, urban farming, green business practices, and developing business and marketing plans. The tasks become lessons in leadership and team building.

Not only is the program a haven from the heat and concrete of the city, it also opens up possibilities and career insights the students might not have been exposed to otherwise. Heidi Joynt, coordinator of the North Chicago Green Youth Farm, explains, “Some of the greatest outcomes of Green Youth Farm, are seeing youth become more engaged with the food they are eating; some have started gardens at their homes or churches, others have gone on to study Environmental Studies or Horticulture in college.”

“They are beginning to see access to healthy food as a justice issue,” she says. “It’s not our mission to turn students into farmers, but if they grow personally from the experience and become more informed and engaged citizens who can make positive contributions to their community, then we have succeeded.”

Working at the garden further stimulates the mind and body. The students are physically active and outdoors, surrounded by nature, while working toward a valuable objective. The experience culminates at the Chicago Botanic Garden Farmers’ Market where the students sell their sustainably grown produce such as vegetables, herbs, flowers and honey. You can also visit the students’ Farm Stand this summer beginning July 9, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Green Belt Forest Preserve on Green Bay Road.

Interested in starting a youth garden in your neighborhood? Here’s how to start:

1. Decide why you need a garden and what it will provide for the community.

2. Get support. Who will administer the youth garden? Create a team by recruiting volunteers to help with the project. The CBG has lots of ideas and support.

3. Contact your IL Extension Office.

4. Build a curriculum. Plan how you will educate the students and what the impact will be. Check out School Garden Wizard for ideas.

5. Determine your costs and establish how you will finance the project. Find donations, host fundraisers, and apply for grants. This article on school gardens, has lots of ideas.

6. Locate your garden space and begin designing. Remember, it’s always best to start small. (Another great local resource for inspiration is the Smart Farm in Barrington.)

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden and Robin Carlson