The Gardens for Change crew. Sadaya Bronson is pictured at left. All photos courtesy of University of Minnesota Extension.

Gardening for change
Youths from the U of M’s Urban Agriculture Initiative transform vacant lots into bright spots

When Sadaya Bronson joined a team of six other youth leaders as a summer intern with University of Minnesota Extension, she did not know what to expect. “We all came from different schools and neighborhoods,” she says. “There were people I had never seen before.”

By the end of the summer of 2022, Bronson found herself part of the Gardens for Change team dedicated to “not only caring for gardens but caring for the community.”

At the 6th Street and West Broadway neighborhoods in Minneapolis, gardens were bursting with squash, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, kale, garlic, lemon balm, chamomile, mint, and flowers.

It’s hard to believe that a year earlier, those thriving plots sat as vacant lots.

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Connecting youths, land, and community

As a collaboration between Extension, Hennepin County, mentors from the community, and others, the Urban Agriculture Initiative, for which Bronson was interning, turns vacant lots into community gardens while creating a space for youths and residents to learn and connect with the broader community.

“We are not only making lots more aesthetically pleasing and growing food in a garden,” says Craig Taylor, Extension regional director. “We are connecting and bringing power back to the community.”

The Urban Agriculture Initiative draws on expertise from Extension Master Gardener volunteers, Extension agriculture and health and nutrition educators, community mentors, and others.

Last summer, community mentors Sheronda Orridge and Elba Negron took the youths on tours of local farms, markets, and even the State Capitol. Participants also learned how to design garden spaces and make nutritious foods like salsa and pesto.

During their time together, the mentors encouraged participants to openly be themselves and share what’s in their hearts and on their minds, touching on topics about identity, belonging and future aspirations.

The youths also shared lessons on surviving in the wilderness, fixing bikes, getting good sleep, meditating, and more. For example, Bronson shared her talent for art by holding a workshop to paint a sign for the 6th Street garden, renaming it the Sunflower Community Garden. 

Bronson, who also participates with Extension through 4-H, describes the project as a “new opening and beginning” to learn, explore, and discover her passions and aspirations.

“The community is more engaged,” says Taylor. “I’m excited to continue watching the gardens and community grow.”

This story was adapted from the University of Minnesota Extension’s Source Magazine. Read the full story.

Help make programs like the Urban Agriculture Initiative happen by supporting the Extension Opportunity Fund.

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