Teens use web-based tools to plan gardens

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Tracy Hrajnoha, program coordinator at Neu-Life, helps teens build a frame for a garden bed. (Photo by Kenya C. Evans)

The teens at Neu-Life Community Resource Center are getting strategic about what they will plant this season, and how they will lay the garden out.

Tracy Hrajnoha, program coordinator at Neu-Life, is using a website, GrowVeg.com, that provides resources and logistics for planting a vegetable garden.

“The website connects you to a lot of seed catalogs, and tells you how much space you need for your plants, as well as how to grow and how much you can grow,” said Hrajnoha.

Neu-Life youths have been planting at Alice’s Garden, on the corner of N. 21st Street and W. Garfield Avenue, for seven years, according to Venice Williams, Alice’s Garden program director. In addition, a group of teens from Neu-Life turned an empty lot at N. 19th Street and W. Meinecke Avenue into a flower garden three years ago. They named it “Lot of Respect.”

Since then, according to Hrajnoha, Neu-Life youth have become more involved in gardening at both locations. “We started to grow more at Alice’s Garden because of that, and started to use that food in our weekly meals,” she added.

Neu-Life is an afterschool program serving the greater Lindsay Heights neighborhood. It focuses on positive youth development and offers programs that include sports and arts, anger management, life management skills and service projects.

A diagram shows how the Neu-Life plot will look in Alice’s Garden. (Courtesy of GrowVeg.com)

Through the Earn and Learn program, teens build frames for raised beds, weed, water and clean up at Alice’s Garden. Earn and Learn is a program of Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, Inc. that provides young adults, ages 14-21, the opportunity to improve their work-readiness skills and gain job experience.

The teens plan to add raised beds and grow produce along with flowers in the “Lot of Respect” this year. They hope to offer raised beds to families interested in starting a garden if the center can raise funds for materials and compost, according to Hrajnoha.

“We’ve been bouncing ideas around, but nothing has been decided,” Hrajnoha said.

Neu-Life’s plot at Alice’s Garden is 16- by 32-feet, their largest yet. A group of elementary school kids at Neu-Life, called the Garden Club, also take part. They plant seeds and prepare uncooked meals with the produce grown at Alice’s Garden.

Japheth Dobson, 18, is one of the teens participating for the third year. He said he has acquired skills beyond gardening. “I learned about planting, and I made new friends, so I learned people skills,” said Dobson. “I became a leader.”

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