Michigan Youth Farm Stand Project: Bringing Fresh Foods to Michigan Communities
Contact: Susan Cocciarelli; 517.432.4525; firstname.lastname@example.org
Both urban and rural populations sometimes face obstacles to the access of locally grown, fresh fruits and vegetables. The Michigan Youth Farm Stand Project is working to eliminate Michigan's food deserts while also sharing valuable lessons about business development and management.
Youth selling produce at school
Youth gardening programs are often about much more than just growing fruits and vegetables or learning about how to maintain healthy garden soils. Youth who are involved in these programs also learn about how food choices impact their health, and the health of the communities in which they live. In some entrepreneurial programs, young adults are able to take a proactive approach to getting people access to healthier foods, while also learning a lot about what it takes to sell and market produce. One of these types of programs is the Michigan Youth Farm Stand Project (YFSP), which was organized by the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University. The C.S. Mott Group helps coordinate funding, provides technical assistance, and offers additional educational materials to schools, non-profits, and university extension offices that are working toward the establishment of youth-run farm stand projects. Youth engaged in the YFSP learn a wide range of food nutrition information, and business and horticultural skills, while having the opportunity to improve healthy food options for themselves and other community residents.
Why Farm Stands?
"Food deserts" are described by the C.S. Mott Group as areas that "have no available fresh fruits and vegetables within a 7-mile radius." This type of availability means that people who live in food deserts often have to depend on whatever is available in local convenience stores. These foods are typically processed and are not necessarily optimum for a healthy diet. "Food Desert" conditions can occur in cities or rural communities, and they often lead to health problems for the people who live in these areas.
Preparing corn for sale
The Michigan Youth Farm Stand Project of the C.S. Mott Group is designed to help people with low incomes in two ways: first, through nutritional and entrepreneurial education that helps these young entrepreneurs and their potential customers understand the importance of healthy food choices; and second, by bringing healthy foods into communities which currently lack healthy food options. The YFSP targets low-income areas, and provides access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables that people may otherwise not be able to purchase. The nutritional foundation of this program is what sets it apart from other entrepreneurial programs: nutrition education is the marketing tool of the youth farm stand businesses. Youth learn the nutritive value of their product, becoming food ambassadors. The entrepreneurial nature of the program also means that youth who participate are able to learn what it means to run a business, even as they gain valuable gardening and food production skills.
Local Youth, Local Foods
The Michigan Youth Farm Stand project was piloted in 2005/2006 in two Michigan communities, and the next year an additional six communities took part in the program. The core components of a successful youth farm stand project serve as the backbone of technical assistance for all sites. Youth involved in YFSP participate in the program for 10 months, and learn about every aspect of the food chain. Says project Director Susan Cocciarelli "we are not just looking at having access to food [in these communities], but are thinking in terms of long-term sustainability of community food systems." The C.S. Mott Group states four primary components that are a part of every project:
- Nutrition education that focuses on the value of eating fruits and vegetables to improve dietary quality;
- Opportunities to prepare and sample fruits and vegetables through "healthy" cooking demonstration, recipe development, and food preservation and safety;
- Opportunities to grow and/or learn about growing, procuring and selling fresh produce;
- Entrepreneurial education that focuses on produce procurement, produce stand management, and long-term career options in food-related entrepreneurism.
Quoted from The Michigan Youth Farm Stand Project: Connecting the Food we Eat with Where It's Grown and Made Available, C.S. Mott Group, December 2006.
In each community, the youth work on the project between February and October. Project Site Coordinator Anne Scott explains that the youth "spend the first few months talking about foods and nutrition, and thinking about what type of resources are available in their community." They later begin to work on a business plan and marketing strategy, which most often includes detailed research into local food patterns and an analysis of the best possible sites to sell and distribute produce. At this stage the youth are paired with a local entrepreneur, often a farmer, who is able to help them think through the components of producing and selling food in their community. This is a critical step, and Scott feels that "site location is very important...and effects how well the community is able to support the stand. [The youth] need to think about insurance, rent, proximity, and all sorts of other factors." By springtime, the group will have spent time networking with local growers, suppliers, other business or non-profit organizations, and will then begin the process of managing the sales at their own stand.
Youth displaying education materials
developed by their gardening group
However, the mission, design, implications, and format of the YFSP vary somewhat depending on the community. For example, in one of the first communities they worked in, with the Forest Area Public Schools of Kalkaska County, the participants and group leader were interested in focusing on the entrepreneurial aspect of farm stand management. The youth recruited 14 local farmers who sold produce to the youth, who then sold at the youth-managed farm stand alongside produce they grew themselves. The youth were able to earn income and use the farm stand as their summer job. They also re-invested their profits in the stand.
Another one of the first YFSP projects focused much more on nutrition education, service learning, and community-building. Based out of southeast Detroit and sponsored by two non-profit organizations, the youth in this group grew most of the produce they distributed themselves at a local urban farm. They donated much of the produce through stands they set up in a local soup kitchen, and developed strong youth leadership to guide the format of the program.
Future of YFSP
Working in the garden
The C.S. Mott Group plans to continue to expand their efforts in Michigan, and is planning to work with ten to thirteen communities in 2008. They are currently developing a series of guides that will assist new groups in the entrepreneurial elements of locating and managing a farm stand, as well as comprehensive nutritional guidelines and activities that can be undertaken in the garden. They are also hoping to be able to connect youth with post-secondary options, to help provide them with opportunities beyond the scope of the program. They plan to connect communities who have participated in the Youth Farm Stand Project with new communities desiring to participate in the future. If groups are able to mentor each other, say project coordinators, more resources will be freed to help start additional projects.
To learn more about the Michigan Youth Farm Stand Project and other projects of the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems visit http://www.mottgroup.msu.edu, or contact Project Director Susan Cocciarelli at 517.432.4525; email@example.com.