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NUAG graduate Jondellro Hightower, l-r, Pastor John Hightower, and NUAG instructor Krystal Madden

FAITH Farms graduate 63 urban farmers

Contributed By: The 411 News

Learning the importance of agriculture

With a graduation certificate in one hand and a farm tool in the other, 63 middle and high school students have taken the first step in joining the next generation of urban farmers.

Saturday’s ceremony at The ArtHouse in Gary was for the 3rd graduating class of FAITH (Families Anchored in Total Harmony) CDC’s Next Urban Ag Generation Junior Urban Master Producer Program.

The program is an outgrowth of the journey Progressive Community Church took nearly 10 years ago when it started a community garden on the vacant lot next to their church in Gary’s Emerson neighborhood.

Today, that community garden is FAITH Farms and Orchard and is feeding thousands across Gary. Developing junior urban farmers is FAITH CDC’s mission to teach youth the importance of agriculture and to hone their skills for cultivating and preparing fresh produce.

“I was encouraged when my son came home and talked about the program,” said Pastor John Hightower. “I took up horticulture in college. For my own son and daughter to share with me that this is what they wanted to do, I was all in.”

The 8-week program of 2 hour sessions, held at the Gary Public Library & Cultural Center on Saturday mornings, put the students on a path to learn the science of farming. Instructor Krystal Madden said the program also included biblical components and components of Black History outside of slavery.

The program’s curriculum is based on the work done at FAITH Farms. Students dissected flowers and seeds, and visited the farm for hands on work.

“We did some projects with the library. We learned about the Dewey Decimal System and read books about the topics we were studying,” Madden said.

“I'm so excited about those eight weeks,” said Pastor Hightower. “They came home with the items they had worked on. They told us about what they learned – how they started out with gravel and dirt, then planted the seeds.”

Pastor Hightower said he visited FAITH Farms. “I saw the plant houses and the animals. I’m just excited for my children.”

NUAG graduate Jondellro Hightower said the class was very interesting. “We learned about George Washington Carver and his work with peanuts. We learned about composting. I’m going to be an intern this summer.”

Toni Horton’s oldest son was a NUAG participant last year. Now her youngest son, who is autistic, is in the program. “I talked about his needs with Dr. Jamison and she encouraged us to put him in,” Horton said. “Every week, he came home and talked about what he learned. It’s just a good opportunity for the kids.”

Horton also likes the paid internship opportunities available during the summer. “I had already been talking to both of my kids about saving money and making wise spending choices. So now they'll be able to make their own money and make those decisions,” she said.

The graduates are eligible for NUAG’s 7-week summer internships. Dr. Tifany Jamison, program director, reminded the class that the internship program will kick off on Friday, June 7.

Interns have a 3-day schedule – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – for a 9-hour week. They earn $15 an hour.

“This year, we will have six community garden sites; 5 in Gary and one in Merrillville. My goal is to put 8 to ten kids at each site,” Dr. Jamison said. “Mondays and Wednesdays, they’re at the community sites. This is where they get to put in practice what they learned during the 8 weeks.”

Supporting community gardens operated by other neighborhood organizations is part of the NUAG program.

Friday is a day for mentoring and enrichment. “Speakers will come in to expand our students knowledge base. They are going to learn about money management; how to invest in themselves and grow their money,” Jamison said.

Last year, the students built and delivered raised garden beds to senior citizens. Jamison said they’ll probably do it again this year.

NUAG graduates eat lunch

Story Posted:06/03/2024

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