The St. Mary’s Nutrition Center was filled with amaranth, golden rod and mint as friends and allies of the Lots to Gardens program arrived for the annual Community Dinner hosted on August 29 by the 2011 Summer Youth Gardeners and Youth Interns.
The Summer Youth Gardeners are a crew of teenagers from Lewiston and Auburn that have spent their summer learning how to grow food, supporting adult community gardeners, participating in nutrition and cooking classes and developing leadership and job skills that they can use well after the program ends. This year 17 youth participated in the program.
As the night opened, Abdikadir Ismail, a Youth Intern with Lots to Gardens, welcomed attendees. “Our mission is to provide access to healthy food to our community,” said Ismail.
This year the youth decided to live this mission by turning the dinner into a benefit for UNICEF. All money raised at the dinner will go toward initiatives in the Horn of Africa, where people are experiencing famine and sever drought. “Many people are worrying about where their next meal will come from, and we’d like to help them,” said Ismail.
These youth have learned a lot about how hunger has affected people in Lewiston and around the world. “Lewiston’s child-poverty rate is almost twice the state average,” said youth gardener Naima Odowa. “We do what we can to help ensure that families in Lewiston have access to affordable fresh vegetables. Through the Farmers’ Markets, our Community Gardens and our children’s programs, we impact a lot of people.”
This year Lots to Gardens supported 99 community gardeners from Lewiston and Auburn. “It’s the most gardeners we’ve ever had,” said Youth Programs Coordinator Ari Rosenberg. “Thanks to a partnership with the City of Lewiston and Community Credit Union, we were able to offer more plots at our newest garden on the corner of Pine and Howe Streets.”
A number of the youth have their own plots in the gardens, using the knowledge they’ve gained through participation in the program to grow food for their families.
In true Lots to Gardens fashion, the youth led attendees in a warm-up game, giving them an opportunity to get to know each other better and break down cultural barriers and differences. Youth gardeners then took time to inform everyone about the work they’ve done this summer. From gardening to cooking, volunteering at the St. Mary’s Food Pantry to participating in Job Training classes, these youth have been busy.
Finally, Youth Gardener Brendon Venable introduced the meal. “Most, if not all, of the vegetables used in the meal were grown by us in our 12 lots around Lewiston,” Venable said. “Any vegetables we didn’t grow came from local farms that sell produce at the Lewiston Farmers’ Market.”
And vegetables there were! Somehow these youth managed to put vegetables or herbs they grew into literally everything served. From mint tea to corn chowder, eggplant Parmesan to Sambusa, winter squash rolls to beet brownies, there was not a dish in sight that didn’t have locally grown vegetables in it.
“Working with Lots to Gardens has been a great experience,” said youth gardener Allison Moody. “It’s kept me busy this summer and, in addition to learning about gardening, I’ve broken out of my shell and made a lot of friends.”
So what’s next? “I hope I get hired to continue working this fall,” Moody said.