- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

LAKE ELMO, Minn. (AP) - When is an onion more than an onion?

When it’s raised by Ann DeLaVergne’s team of under-employed youth in a mobile home park.

Jackson says that the onions - and other vegetables - are multi-faceted teaching tools. Workers learn about gardening when they grow them, business when they sell them, and nutrition when they eat them.

And, she adds, they taste better.

“We feel like we are a gem, and no one knows about us,” said DeLaVergne, the director of Our Community Food Project.



That group manages the Youth Garden program at the Cimarron mobile home park in Lake Elmo.

DeLaVergne said the program is fairly small, working 1 acre and employing 10 workers.

But it’s growing - the sales doubled last year to $10,000. The size of the garden has increased this year. For the first time, it is producing flowers, which the program sells through a weekly delivery program.

The program’s Cimarron Market Stand opened for business earlier this month. The stand is the first community garden in Washington County to accept food stamps, DeLaVergne said.

The Youth Garden, she said, is the ultimate in local food production.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press (https://bit.ly/1svrmk1 ) reports that workers carry the produce about 50 yards to the vegetable stand. There, Cimarron residents buy it and can cook it at the community kitchen of the FamilyMeans Youth Center. After the meal, they can walk back to work in the garden, or walk home.

“We are an entire food system right within the community,” DeLaVergne said.

The garden’s weekly subscription program provides a box a week of various vegetables, including lettuce, herbs, green onions, turnips, radishes, rhubarb and bok choy.

DeLaVergne said the workers are “disadvantaged youth” between the ages of 18 and 24, hired by the county’s Workforce Center.

“Some of them do not have jobs. Some of them are lacking skills,” she said.

–—

THINNING RADISHES

Cimarron resident Susan Jackson knelt by a row of overgrown daikon radishes. She was teaching Dahyais Orth, 19, how to thin them.

“You have got to give them breathing room,” she explained. “They need to be by themselves.”

“One and done,” said Orth, yanking out an extra radish.

Surrounding them were rows of cucumbers and a bank of purple phlox flowers. Jackson said that bee-friendly sunflowers and zinnias would follow soon. “The bees swarm all over them in the fall,” she said.

She keeps track of each year’s plantings the old-fashioned way - scrawling records on the door of a shed. It is a week-by-week diary of what was planted where and when: “July 21, 2015 - beans 3 rows; Beets, three rows.”

At harvest time, Jackson said, the employees take their work home - for nutritious meals.

“Before he came here, Dahyais did not have a clue what healthy eating was,” she said.

Orth said he loves the gardening because it’s a family tradition - his grandfather raised corn on farms in Woodbury and Afton. This summer he will be working in the garden six hours a day, five days a week.

The work and the healthy food have helped him. A year ago, he battled depression and says he was consuming only 800 calories a day. “I wasted away four months of my life,” Orth said.

Today, he is eating much better. “Definitely!” he said.

As he weeded, Orth talked about everything else he is learning. In addition to gardening, he is also maintaining irrigation systems and the sheds.

“I have learned plumbing, a little construction,” he said. “And I sure learned what quack grass is.”

___

Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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