F Cubed: Food, Farming, Future
The Talking Farm and Youth Opportunities United, Y.O.U. developed this program for high school-aged students. The Talking Farm designed and built a raised-bed vegetable garden with Y.O.U. at its Evanston headquarters, and developed a year-round educational program on gardening, cooking with vegetables, and the commercial and practical aspects of selling produce at a real farmer’s market. We also teach students about the environmental, health, and social justice issues related to our food system, and the ways in which they can act to initiate change.
In 2009, we converted an empty lot across from Evanston Township High School’s main entrance into a 5,000 square foot organic garden. This food production project provides learning experiences for students, leadership opportunities, and five summer jobs for ETHS students. The Edible Acre produces 2,500 pounds of fresh produce annually for the school cafeteria and summer faculty CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) program. Throughout the school year, we work with students in the garden and greenhouse, and teach all aspects of growing organic vegetables from seed, planting, soil health, pest management, harvesting, and washing. In 2015, we planted an apple and pear orchard outside the school football stadium. We also teach the students about the importance of local, organic produce, and the many issues surrounding our food system.
In this growing partnership, The Talking Farm cultivates an organic urban garden that provides fresh, locally grown produce to Orchard Village’s clients and community members. In addition to growing food for its clients, Orchard Village’s farm donates over 20% of produce grown in their garden to a local food pantry, and sells the remainder at the Skokie Farmers Market. Apart from managing the urban farm for Orchard Village, The Talking Farm’s farm manager educates clients on the importance of being connected to nature and eating healthy food. As a part of a grant awarded by the Skokie Community Foundation to Orchard Village and The Talking Farm, the partnership will continue to grow and educate clients and staff about the nutritional value of fresh produce and how to incorporate fresh vegetables into their meals.
Certified through the Illinois State Board of Education, our farmer-educators, Matt and Susanna, teach the yearly NSERVE course, “Introduction to Environmental and Horticultural Careers,” to high-school students from five surrounding high schools. In this three-week intensive course taught at the farm, students gain hands-on experience in agriculture and explore the different career paths in the environmental field with a focus on the pursuit of sustainable agriculture as a career. The curriculum includes topics such as environmental issues, sustainability, farm management and planning, soil health, crop planning, organic agriculture, social justice issues regarding food, and how to help build and participate in a resilient food system and environment. Apart from presentations and field work, the class takes students on a variety of field trips and introduces them to guest speakers in real-life businesses and careers that focus on improving the food system and environmental sustainability. At the end of the course, students develop a presentation on an area of interest within the environmental realm for a final project.
Niles North High School Bridge Program
The Talking Farm partners with the Niles North Bridge Program, which is a transitional program that serves young adults with disabilities (ages 18-21). The program is designed to prepare students for life after high school and focuses on independent living, competitive employment, education, vocational training, and recreational pursuits. Depending on the student and their needs, we provide and cultivate services that will ensure their well-being and future within the community.
Our three-month stipend internship program continues to be one of the most comprehensive and hands-on programs to teach individuals with a specific interest in growing food locally, organically, and sustainably. Students from surrounding colleges such as Northwestern, Loyola, and DePaul, and local high school students participate in the daily operations of the farm, learning about and experiencing hands-on the myriad tasks associated with the seasonal cycle of farming from seeding, planting, watering, weeding, pest management, crop planning, harvesting, washing, distributing, and even selling produce retail at farmers markets. The interns also learn the principles of sustainability and practical solutions and management styles for a productive, urban farm. There is no more comprehensive program in the area for training people who want to enter into or learn more about careers touching upon sustainability or urban agriculture.
The Talking Farm has naturally partnered the Tot Learning Center, our next-door neighbors, to develop a curriculum that teaches their pre-school students the basics about growing food. In the summer months, the students maintain their own raised-bed garden and tour the farm weekly to discover different vegetables and how they grow. The students are introduced to caring for the environment and eating a variety of locally grown vegetables while having a blast digging through the soil and learning how food grows.
In 2017, through a grant from the Skokie Community Foundation, we hired five Niles North High School students from the Green Thumbs Club to work in the summer on the farm and also to sell produce at the Skokie Farmers Market. During this time students learned how to manage and maintain an organic farm from seeding, watering, planting, harvesting, washing, distribution, and sale of produce. The Green Thumbs Club, in partnership with The Talking Farm, continues to grow seedlings for the farm during the winter in their school greenhouse where students learn about the basics of plant propagation, germination, seeding, and watering.