What Can Blossoming Look Like? On Youth Entrepreneurship with City Blossoms
“I have watched seedlings transform into healthy food that sustains my community and provides much needed nourishment to many people who would not otherwise have access to affordable, healthy food,” Eden Amare, Mighty Greens Youth Staff Member, wrote in the foreword to City Blossoms‘ latest publication, Cultivating Youth Leaders: A Workbook for Growing a Youth-Led Cooperative Garden Business.
Created in collaboration with the U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG), this free resource offers almost a decade’s worth of City Blossoms’ experience working with young people in DC to develop creative and kid-driven green spaces. Through the Youth Entrepreneurship Cooperative (YEC), one of their five interwoven programs, they provide a safe space for high school-aged youth to cultivate skills, take chances, and receive coaching on how to start, manage, and grow their own environmentally-driven business. Their first group of youths formed the Mighty Greens business in 2014 — youth staff grow seedlings and produce, as well as create value-added products (such as herb salts, teas, and more) to sell to the community at farmers markets and holiday pop-ups. Profits from their sales are paid out to youth staff and a portion is reinvested back into Mighty Greens, allowing participants to continue growing their business. On average, they donate over one-third of their produce and seedlings annually to churches, community members, and food banks.
“Mighty Greens teaches people how to cook and make profitable products, such as dried herb salts, teas, and body lotions,” wrote Amare. “These trade skills help to prepare people for careers in the gardening and farming industries.” Beyond skill-building, Mighty Greens Youth Staff members have also received invitations to present at regional conferences, sit on panels, and advise policy makers. But perhaps most importantly, such garden-based entrepreneurship “(allows) us to interact with the community that we are serving.” This summer, for instance, City Blossoms’ programming included special visits and workshops with professional entrepreneurs and local activists. The Mighty Greens team also sold their delicious produce and products at the Petworth Farmers Market.
Now, with the Cultivating Youth Leaders workbook, City Blossoms has combined years of stories from their team and from the Mighty Greens’ Youth Staff with their strategies and lessons learned, as well as useful tools and templates to guide others who want to develop their own unique adaptation of this program. “This resource offers an accessible model that prioritizes centering youth voices, as they are the ultimate change makers,” said Rafael Woldeab, executive director of City Blossoms. “We encourage users to be creative and utilize components of the YEC to meet the unique needs of their own communities.”
From thoughtful questions on building a safe and joyous space for youth to grounding the history of cooperatives in communities of color, this workbook exemplifies their approach to healthy living and community building by seeing youth as the inspiring changemakers they are. “City Blossoms and the USBG recognize the need for equitable and community-led resources that can inform and inspire opportunities nationwide for youth to engage in garden-based entrepreneurship,” said Saharah Moon Chapotin, USBG’s executive director.
Green spaces can be places of opportunity to build stronger relationships with the natural environment and connect with each other as creators and stewards. The seed for City Blossoms was first planted back in 1997 when 18-year-old Rebecca Lemos-Otero and the kids she was leading a summer camp for transformed an abandoned plot into a lush garden with food, flowers, and art installations. With attention and care, this radical project became a nonprofit organization that has touched hundreds of green spaces throughout DC and nationwide, all through the lens of investing in the holistic wellbeing of kids and their communities.
So, what can it look like to “blossom”? We’ll end with a youth-led vision for the future. In the words of Eden Amare, “Knowing that my community is being educated, getting jobs, and staying healthy drives me to serve them even more.”
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