Temple seniors use urban-gardening techniques to teach local students about business.
Organic and healthy food may not be the first thing on middle-school students’ minds, but it may be the key to getting them a jump-start on business skills. And three progressive Temple seniors have made it their mission to plant the seeds of success in the minds of North Philly students.
“Eric and I were trying to think of ways we could work together,” says Alex McNeil, president of Temple’s Project EDU: Education for the Development of Unity, a student organization that strives to provide services, assistance and education to the surrounding communities.
McNeil’s roommate, Eric Trumbower, is the president of the Entrepreneurial Student Association (ESA), an organization operating from the Fox School of Business and Management that focuses on entrepreneurship and free enterprise. The seniors wanted to find a way to help out in the community using the skills they were interested in. “We were driving around and realized there were unused gardens everywhere,” McNeil says.
They decided to get in touch with Yuan Huang, president of Temple Community Gardens, an organization that works to empower and educate the Philadelphia community through gardening to connect to its city, land and life.
“What if we build a garden, teach the kids about gardening, and have them harvest all their produce and sell it to a local farmer’s market?” McNeil says. “They would keep track of their money, realize their expenses, and maybe in a few years, this could be a self-sustaining business.”
The culmination formed Urban Roots. Over the course of two months, beginning in February 2011, students in North Philly’s Norris Square area will learn business in the form of six lesson plans, everything from marketing to costs and revenue. The lessons will be taught by undergraduate business students from the ESA who have, with the counsel of faculty, the know-how to advise younger students.
“One of the major benefits of this is to show them what they’re capable of doing,” Trumbower says. “They don’t have much direction and we want to be able to give back to them in some kind of way, and show them the local impact they can make.”
The lessons will correspond with the gradual progression of the gardens that the students will be working on themselves. The first lesson will focus on developing thorough business plans.
John Welsh Elementary School is a little over a mile away from Temple and is the first school to sign up with Urban Roots.
Huang has taught Chinese at John Welsh for two years, and proposed the idea to the immediately enthused principal, who loved the business twist. Conveniently, as part of their science curriculum, John Welsh teaches Life Sciences, in which the kids learn about plant growth and development. Urban Roots will take over Life Sciences for the middle-school students this coming year.
“As long as I’ve been at this school, we’ve never seen a program like this,” says Jeffrey Bowes, a science teacher who has taught at John Welsh for the past eight years. “I think it will help teach the students responsibility and help them understand where their food comes from.”
“Inner-city schools are in dire need of help on many different levels,” says McNeil, who is no stranger to giving back to the Philadelphia community. Since creating Project EDU two years ago, the program has fostered tutoring services, an academic coaching program that was previously run by AmeriCorps and the Philadelphia Higher Education Network for Neighborhood Development (PHENND), geared toward helping public school students with their mandatory senior projects, and successful programs such as Philly Eco Kids and Operation Bookshelf.
“There are great schools and teachers here, but it’s not just the school. It’s the community, it’s the home, it’s the whole nine yards,” he says. “One of the things we can address with this program is lack of nutrition and available nutritious foods. There’s a few grocery stores scattered around North Philadelphia, but not many. A lot people have to rely on the local corner stores and bodegas.”
The short-term goal currently is to find more schools and sponsors in the Norris Square area by the start of the program.
McNeil hopes the students will be inspired enough by the program to continue running it, to recruit more kids and to create gardens throughout the city.
And Trumbower anticipates the students will see higher education as more of a probability.
“We hope that we can help show the importance of education,” he says. “As well as where it can take you.” ■