Dallas Youth Garden taking root

DALLAS -- Digging in the dirt and watching out for insects may not be part of the description for most summer jobs high school students are seeking.But that is exactly what six Dallas-area students are doing this summer -- plus watering, weeding and harvesting -- while working in the new Dallas Youth Garden, or "DYG," behind Trinity Lutheran Church.The project, a collaboration between the local 4-H program and Polk County Service Integration, in addition to numerous other partners, pays student "interns" to plan, plant and care for their own 25-foot-by-50-foot garden plot over the summer.All produce grown will be donated to Willamette Valley Food Assistance Program (WVFAP) of Dallas to help with its mission of providing food for low income, elderly and disabled people.DYG's interns, who will be paid $500 for their efforts, see the project as an opportunity to test their own decision-making skills in a nontraditional work environment. Photo by Pete Strong Andrew Fitzgerald tosses a clod of dirt into a wheelbarrow while weeding his 25-foot-by-50-foot plot -- one of six total -- at the Dallas Youth Garden on Thursday. "It was something different than what all of my friends are doing," said intern Alli Dimick, 17. "They are looking for stores that they can work in. That's not really me. I wanted to be outside and not have to sit inside all my summer."Dean Anderson, one of the project's supervisors, said the idea stemmed from a conversation with a friend who is involved in a similar garden in Los Angeles."It sounded like something we could do here," he said.Soon, Anderson had a partner supervisor on board and began asking community organizations for help getting started.Polk's Service Integration Team offered funding to pay interns and Trinity Lutheran Church donated the land. Businesses and organizations donated fencing materials, seeds and plant starts, and volunteer labor turned a grass field behind the church into a garden area.Like with any work experience, Anderson wants DYG to build leadership skills in his interns. Before planting, they all learned about WVFAP's mission and how common "food insecurity" is in the state -- 13.6 percent of households or 491,000 individuals, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.WVFAP gave the interns a list of the most needed fruits and vegetables to get them started."It was up to them to come up with a plan for their garden to get as much food from the list as we could over the summer," Anderson said. "They picked the food from the list that they were going to grow."Most picked produce they would want to eat, plus a few they knew others hadn't planted."It's not a bunch of people telling me how to plant," said intern Katie Pederson, noting that's one of the aspects she likes about DYG. "It's all my own choices and hopefully it's all OK."A few Polk County Master Gardeners are on hand in case the interns come across something strange in the garden, insect or otherwise."They come up with questions about things that I don't have much experience with, so I look it up and I learn along with them," said Eileen Shaffer, a Master Gardener helping oversee DYG. "There is a lot of `crapshoot' involved, whether your seeds are going to come up ... and the weather is everything. This is a learning experience for these kids. Not all of it is going to be successful, but they'll learn."Intern Kordan Roberts was quick to point out the most valuable lesson of the interns' summer occupation: helping others."It's cool that we are donating to the food bank," he said.


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