Several years ago, 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 this growing multi-year 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 has donated over 20% of produce grown in their garden to a local food pantry, sold produce at the Skokie Farmers Market, and distributed vegetables to its constituents. 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 recipients 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.
Yachad is an international organization dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish individuals with disabilities and their families by enhancing their communal participation and their connection to Judaism through social and educational programs and support services. In 2021, Yachad (Chicago) and The Talking Farm developed a program in which Yachad participants work alongside TTF staff to volunteer at the farm and learn about urban farming. Through these enriching visits, Yachad members experience the physical aspects of farming, socialize with farm staff, and harvest & taste vegetables.
The Talking Farm also partners with Y.O.U. to provide enrichment opportunities at multiple elementary schools for their elementary summer & after-school programs at on-site school gardens. TTF educational staff visit local schools in Evanston & Skokie weekly to work with students and provide activities such as planting, harvesting, garden maintenance, cultivation, plant care, soil testing, and food tastings.
The Talking Farm has naturally partnered with the Tot Learning Center, our next-door neighbors, to develop a curriculum that teaches their pre-school students the basics about growing food. All year long, the students maintain their own raised-bed garden and tour the farm to discover different vegetables and how they grow, as well as engage in classroom activities related to urban farming and agriculture. 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.
John Middleton Elementary School
In partnership with parents and staff at the elementary school located closest to The Talking Farm, The Talking Farm provides farming knowledge & student enrichment to supplement their programming at their school garden. In this weekly program, TTF staff goes to Middleton Elementary to help students get their hands in the soil, and learn about planting, harvesting, tasting vegetables, reading, learning, and exploring their student-led garden space.
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 worked 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 and installed an Edible Wall and Edible Tower. We also taught students about the importance of local, organic produce, and the many issues surrounding our food system.
For two years, we taught the summer 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 gained hands-on experience in agriculture and explored the different career paths in the environmental fields with a focus on the pursuit of sustainable agriculture as a career. The curriculum included 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 fieldwork, the class took students on a variety of field trips and introduced them to guest speakers in real-life businesses and careers that focused on improving the food system and environmental sustainability. At the end of the course, students developed 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.
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.