Youth gardeners to celebrate Earth Day

Published April 19, 2007 4:10 pm
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Posted: 4:10 PM- Dozens of teens plan to celebrate Earth Day and National Youth Service Day on Saturday by digging ditches, planting veggies and teaching adults all about gardening.

Utah GARDENS Inc., a 6-year-old nonprofit group, invites youths and adults to participate in the festivities - and grunt work - at its five Salt Lake Valley gardens. The group will offer adult gardening classes, children's activities and live music.

Most produce grown by Utah GARDENS - which stands for Gardens Achieving Resourcefulness, Diversity, Education and Neighborhood Safety and is affiliated with Salt Lake County's 4-H program - is donated to food pantries and low-income families. The remainder is sold at farmers' markets to cover operating costs for the organization.

"My favorite part [of volunteering with Utah GARDENS] is the donating," said Jenny Harris, a 16-year-old junior at Bingham High. "When we get to donate the food, it's worth every amount of work we put in the whole year."

Last year, the group worked with Catholic Community Services and gave fresh produce to African refugees who recently moved to Utah. This year, the youth gardeners plan to fellowship refugees their same age by inviting them to participate in service projects and other activities.

Harris is part of a leadership committee - all of the group's youth gardens are run by high-schoolers - that oversees Utah GARDENS' newest site, located across the street from Bingham High near 10400 South and 2200 West in South Jordan.

Saturday also marks the grand opening celebration for this garden.

"We had such a large contingency of Bingham High students driving into South Salt Lake, we decided to look around for some property close to them," said Shane Siwik, president of Utah GARDENS.

Ron Thorne, who owns the property, plans to develop it in a few years but has agreed to allow youth volunteers to cultivate the site for now. He also has offered to relocate the garden within a few blocks when the property is developed, Siwik said.

South Jordan also has suggested the use of property at the city's tree farm near the Jordan River for a youth garden, said Aimee Hardy, a neighborhood outreach coordinator with South Jordan.

Finding land to garden in the rapidly developing Salt Lake Valley is an increasing challenge. Another nonprofit, Wasatch Community Gardens, is losing two of its Salt Lake City sites this year. Utah GARDENS lost plots in Sandy and South Salt Lake to development last year.

But the group plans to continue to grow - even if it means being flexible and gardening patches that might be available for only a few years, including the new South Jordan spot.

Siwik, who also is a South Salt Lake councilman, wants to have 20 youth gardens - one for virtually every high school in Salt Lake County - by spring 2009. With that many gardens, he said, the group can donate up to 250,000 pounds of food a year.

It's a lofty goal, considering Utah GARDENS donated 3,000 pounds last year and hopes to provide 50,000 this year.

Siwik plans to supplement the produce with a new "Fruits Without Roots" program. Homeowners who cannot pick and eat all the fruit grown on their trees can invite youth volunteers to pick the fruit and then donate it.

With Utah GARDENS' volunteers, Siwik said, anything is possible.

"The kids have more vision and organizational skills than many adults," he said. "They can do it."

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