Washington Youth Garden Grows Food…and Jobs



After yesterday's post about an organic gardening scam, how about a more positive sign of the times?  There's no better example than the Washington Youth Garden at the National Arboretum.  I dropped by recently to see what's new, and discovered not just deer fencing and other improvements, but a jobs program.  Green jobs, part of the mayor's Green Jobs initiative.

Yes, one of the Youth Garden's programs teaches 14 and 15-year olds about all sorts of plant-related careers
– growing food, cooking, horticulture, garden design, farmers market management, and more.  And a really cool part of that exposure to the business world happens in partnership with one of D.C.'s hottest restaurants – Poste Moderne Brasserie.  Here's how the partnership works.

Staff from the restaurant, including Chef Jeremy Cecere here, teach the kids to cook – part of the garden's Garden Science
class – and volunteer as gaIMG_8409rdeners, too.  I'm told that "Through volunteering,
they learn about different organic gardening practices and procedures,
become more connected to the produce they cook and sell, and experience
the work and time that goes into growing herbs, fruit and vegetables by
doing." Some of the garden's produce is then donated to the restaurant, so kids see the food they've grown being served in a
successful, higher-end restaurant.  And the source is acknowledged on the menu – great promotion for the garden.

Now about the other guy in the photo.  He's garden coordinator Chris Turse, on whom I'd definitely have a crush if I were a bit younger.  In his words, "This is our 40th
year anniversary and many, many hands have gone in to the garden well
before me."  Maybe so, but it's really blossomed under his care.  He instituted an 8-year crop rotation program, added fruit trees, and adopted cover-cropping.

Chris also did away with individual plots
for participants.  Instead, he implemented a "more
community- and teamwork-based way of gardening, where everybody cares for
everything".  (Readers may remember guest Ed Bruske espousing this model for community gardens– and being called a communist for his efforts.)

My favorite part of the garden is the Urban Gardening Plot that demonstrates all
sorts of small-space choices, like square-foot techniques, growing vertically, and in containers.  The in-ground crops are grown between deep ruts planted with clover as an "intercrop".

Now to gush about Chris's qualifications for this job.  He blames his "obsession with agriculture and all issues concerning food" on a sophomore-year class in organic crop rotation at Rutgers.  He fed that obsession by managing the student organic farm, developing two children's gardening programs, working in the campus greenhouse, and as a lab and field tech for research in herbs, kudzu and artemia.  He ended up with a degree in plant science, a teaching certificate in K-12 biological sciences and certification in hort therapy.  Nice to see all that knowledge and training – plus passion and lots of personality – being put to such good use.  I wish there were lots more jobs for young people like Chris (and maybe not so many in finance and law).

Next up for this hard-working blogger is a visit to Poste Moderne Braisserie to check out their garden.  And if some food comes my way while I'm there, you won't see me fretting about the dangers of bloggers being bought off for favorable coverage.  Nosiree.


  1. Susan – Fascinating post. One of my constant rants, way beyond the garden, is that young people (including me so many years ago) don’t know enough about the job and career opportunities that exist. All programs that give young people a chance to experience the many aspects of the world of work get my vote.

  2. Oh, Chris is truly crush-worthy! 😛

    Thank you for spotlighting the Washington Youth Garden, Susan. This is my second year volunteering with them, and I know they do amazing work. It’s rewarding even for the volunteers–we learn more about growing organic food, and we get to watch the children learn, too!

  3. I volunteered at the WYG for two summers and loved working with and learning from Chris and other staff, interns and volunteers there. Keep up the great work!

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