When urban youth get off the bus each morning at Dream of Wild Health, just outside the Twin Cities of Minnesota, they leave behind their cell phones, iPods and other electronics to begin a full day of gardening. The Garden Warriors, as they’re called, are teenagers immersed in a four-week program that teaches gardening basics, healthy cooking, traditional ways, and business skills.
“The first shock is that they have to leave their phones on the bus,” says Diane Wilson, executive director of Dream of Wild Health. “And, the second is that they have to eat vegetables for lunch. But, at the end of those four weeks, we find that most of them have come to enjoy the food, or at least experimented with a lot of different new veggies and flavors.”
Each morning begins in circle with prayer, the burning of traditional tobacco (grown and dried on the farm) and a smudging ceremony. The teens tend to fields and harvest vegetables that are sold at farmers markets in Minneapolis. Garden Warriors are paid a stipend for helping run the farmers markets, where they learn business basics such as presentation, customer service and money skills. Leaders within the Garden Warriors are invited to join the year-round Youth Leaders group, which organizes events for the broader community, such as cooking classes.
Dream of Wild Health also runs a program for younger children, ages 8 to 12, called Cora’s Kids and named for an elder who donated heirloom seeds. The week-long program invites entire families to learn about organic gardening, healthy cooking and culture.