Stephanie M. Reuter, Michigan State University Extension 4-H program assistant in Ingham County, is connecting kids to their food – from the garden to the table. Stephanie coordinates a program at the Ingham County Family Center in Lansing using a $10,000 4-H Participation Fee Grant. The center on 22 acres includes a high school, Ingham Academy, and an evening program called Pride. Stephanie and an AmeriCorps member-in-training work with court-involved youth tending about an acre of land and raising five egg-laying chickens. A hoop house on the grounds contains raised beds for growing greens. The students eat the produce that they grow for lunch and dinner. A four-week cooking program that used produce and eggs from the site was such a hit with the kids that the classes are being held again.
Last year more than 100 youth were part of the program. It seeks to get kids involved with the food they eat by learning how to grow their own and at the same time increasing the amount of produce that they eat, leading to a healthier lifestyle. But the program does not stop with just growing and eating. The youth test their entrepreneurial skills selling the produce at farm stands at county buildings and on the school grounds. Adult volunteers led by the AmeriCorps member are helping out with projects – cleaning up the garden, planting garlic and creating a native butterfly garden in an island of the parking lot.
The program has grown substantially in a short time and because of the enthusiasm of the youth, volunteers and staff members like Stephanie, the project should continue to make a difference with the youth at the center.