Growing youths

Dyllan Coons, left, gives a tour of his plot in the Dallas Youth Garden on July 26. The garden is a 4-H project that has paid interns raising vegetables for a local food bank.

DALLAS — Lindsey Hand, 16, is honest about her motivation for applying for an internship at Dallas Youth Garden at Trinity Lutheran Church this summer: money.

“I applied because it is a paid internship,” she said July 26, during the garden’s open house.

After two months of working in the garden, she has a different perspective.

“It’s going really good,” she said. “I found that I really enjoy this a lot.”

Hand’s 25-by-50-foot garden is bursting with corn, zucchini, squash, onions, tomatoes, and a number of other plants.

“Lindsay was one of our alternates,” said Dean Anderson, a garden supervisor for the program. “She stepped in and has done a great job.”

Anderson said that assessment could apply to all nine of the interns working the garden this year.

“This is the best garden we’ve had,” Anderson said. “I say that every year, but it’s true. The garden just gets better and better every year.”

Dallas Youth Garden, a 4-H program, opened in 2013 as a unique internship offering kids an alternative to more traditional summer work. The garden and the program has grown since then, adding three interns and creating a formal advisory council.

Polk County Master Gardeners have joined the effort, too, cultivating small beds and mentoring the budding gardeners.

“They’ve really buckled down and helped our interns,” Anderson said.

He said the goal is to combine teaching teens job skills and responsibility with growing food for the community. All produce grown is donated to Willamette Valley Food Assistance Program in Dallas. He said the organization feeds 300 families per week. Last week, the garden’s harvest was about 400 pounds of fresh produce.

Like any other job, interns have to apply and interview for the position. This year, 14 applied for nine slots and one alternate, but even those who didn’t make the cut were given feedback on their interviews.

Those who are selected begin work on May 1 and are responsible for maintaining their garden through the second week of September. Interns are expected to spend four hours per week improving their gardens, and they have to plan for time off and vacations so their plots don’t suffer.

Many of the interns are just discovering how to grow things — or how not to.

Intern Jon Holton jokingly said that the biggest lesson he learned so far is “don’t water too much.”

The most surprising aspect of working in the program for interns has nothing to do with watering, weeding and harvesting.

Anderson said interns learn quickly just how much hunger is in the Dallas community — and that knowledge opens the door to the biggest lesson yet.

“They learn how to contribute,” Anderson said.

For more information about the program, go to www.DallasYouthGarden.com.

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