Children who grow up in the inner-city often don’t know how the food on their tables is grown and harvested. A program at a farm has helped hundreds of kids in the Midwest learn about agriculture. Organizers hope the kids also learn a little about themselves in the process. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman has this story:
Children who grow up in the inner-city often don’t know how the food on their tables is grown
and harvested. A program at a farm has helped hundreds of kids in the Great Lakes region learn
about agriculture. Organizers hope the kids also learn a little about themselves in the process.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:
Rockford, Illinois is a sprawling industrial center of 150-thousand. The aging rust belt city
battled a weak manufacturing economy. Its crime rate is higher than Chicago’s. And it’s where
11-year-old Astarte Goodwin spends most of his time.
“It’s not a bad neighborhood. It’s a pretty good neighborhood. As long as I don’t start trouble
nothing with the neighbors”
Astarte is part of a program called “Roots and Wings”.
It’s a joint project between a Rockford community center and the Angelic Organics Farm in
nearby Boone County. The kids visited the farm once a week this summer to learn the basics of
growing vegetables and working with animals.
The kids in the “Roots and Wings” program are all considered “at-risk”. They’re from low-
income families. Many of their parents are having problems with drugs and alcohol. Some of
their parents are in jail.
Barb Verni-Lau is a child and family advocate at the Northwest Community Center in Rockford.
“They have a harder time in life. They don’t usually come from two-parent families. And I think
the single-parent families that I have, the mothers are struggling hard.”
Under Barb’s leadership, the kids have been growing a vegetable garden on the grounds of the
community center. They’re using techniques they learned out at the farm.
Tadrick Tate is ten years old.
“Worms are good for plants because they, like, soften the soil and stuff. And they help the
But Tadrick and the other kids are learning about more than just worms and plants. The “Roots
and Wings” program is helping the kids’ social, emotional and educational growth. That’s
according to Mary Solan-Goers, a social worker at a nearby middle school. She says grades and
attendance are up.
“A lot of the skills that they learn in school come alive when they’re gardening. And I think
there’s a lot of pride in seeing something that they planted and watch it grow and develop. And
sometimes you have to deal with some things live and some things die and then seeing the beauty
of this and how they all work together to create this lovely garden. So I think there’s a lot of pride
goes with that.”
“To The Pumpkins!”
Out at the farm, Tom Spaulding has been showing the kids the finer points of growing vegetables.
The Angelic Organics Farm holds educational programs for children and adults. Spaulding says
the programs help people connect with nature, the earth, and the things that sustain life.
“The soils and the plants and the animals that are around us, the ecosystem that we live with.
so fundamental and so basic sometimes we overlook it. You know, there’s so many kids that
come here who they just don’t want to leave. They get so enthused and awestruck while they’re
here. So I see it everyday when there’s a group here, how separated we’ve become from what our
own sustenance is a lot of times. The closest many of us get anymore to food is just the
More than 12-hundred kids from Rockford, Chicago and Milwaukee have visited the farm over
the past few years. Spaulding says he hopes the kids’ experience on the farm will have lasting
“Hopefully on a basic level it connects them to life, to what it means to be alive and to what it
means to be a healthy person, to have positive relationships with those around you, that we’re
embedded in systems of relationships with people and the earth. And they learn a lot while
they’re here about what creates a healthy ecosystem, about what creates a healthy farm, what
creates healthy relationships between people. So hopefully they carry those into other
At the Northwest Community Center, it’s time to harvest the vegetables. Astarte Goodwin’s
hands are covered with dirt as he works in the garden the kids have tended all summer long.
“We’re trying to make the community better. Because before, all this used to be was a pile of
junk. I mean, I shouldn’t say that, but, but you know people used to throw chip
bags, pop cans, pop bottles, dirt. This just used to be a dirt yard.”
But the children in the Roots and Wings program have done more than simply clean up a plot of
land in a Rockford neighborhood. Because of their hard work, they’re taking home fresh
vegetables for their dinner table. They’re also taking home a feeling of accomplishment. The
kind of accomplishment that comes with knowledge and responsibility.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.