Austin students learn entrepreneurial skills through gardening

May 11, 2016
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Young students from Mercy Housing’s after-school and summer program, with the help of community volunteers, broke ground Saturday, planting seeds in the their garden of 24 raised beds and filling the air with the aura of spring.

The community garden at 4912 W. Quincy is part of Mercy Housing‘s ongoing work in Austin. The mission of the garden is to teach young people the value of healthy eating and how to be entrepreneurs.

Throughout the summer, the students, who are also residents from Mercy Housing’s four Austin properties, will care for the garden, eventually selling the harvest to Kitchfix, a Chicago meal-delivery service that specializes in local and organic foods.

“We are creating an entrepreneurial partnership,” said Sarah Russo, Kitchfix community events manager.

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Kitchfix provided the vegetables for the students to grow and will buy back the produce after the harvest; the first harvest is expected in June.

Tomatoes, lettuce, bell peppers, various herbs, strawberries and collard greens are a few of the items the young gardeners are learning to grow.

“The plants [are] basically things we have on our menu,” Russo said.

Residents of Mercy Housing also will get some of the harvest, said Felix Matlock, Mercy Housing Lakefront’s regional vice president for resident services.

“The organic food that we grow here will be sold to Kitchfix, and then given to our residents who are in need of healthy food options,” he said.

Ten year-old Gabriel Perry, a fifth grader at George Leland Elementary, is one of the students involved in the planting process.

She will serve as the record keeper, chronicling her fellow elementary and middle school students’ progress as the plants grow throughout the summer. Discovering new things is her favorite part of the whole process, she said.

“[We’ve learned] how to grow, how to plant and how to dig stuff up,” Gabriel said.

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Phil Ashton, a Mercy Housing board member, said the connection to the land and discovering where food comes from are important lessons for the kids to learn.

The students will not only learn more about food, but also have the satisfaction of allowing others to enjoy what they’ve grown, he said.

“Certainly the value of community, coming out and supporting your neighbors and watching what you can do when you work collectively – that’s an important lesson,” Ashton said.

The children, who woke up early last weekend to help plant, seemed to already be enjoying the gardening process.

Tyrese Richardson, a third grader at Catalyst Circle Rock Elementary School, spent the morning happily raking soil and lending a hand where needed.

Syrianna Williams, a fourth grader at Holy Family School, also helped plant and was excited to be outdoors.

“The most fun part is being out here with your friends and helping each other,” Syrianna said.

Amber Johnson, a consultant for Wilks Communication and a Mercy Housing volunteer, said the benefits of the garden include kids getting outside, doing something active and learning. It’s a way to bring people together and learn teamwork.

“I hope it reinforces some things about community and citizenship,” Johnson said.

“I’m a mom. I have two kids who are here working on stuff, and these are the lessons I want them to learn too. It’s nice to be a part of it.”

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