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What You Plant Now You Will Harvest Later

JSI/WEI Photo Library Photo

by Renette Gonzalez

(Originally appeared in All About Food, September 2014)

Dropping Out of School

I was supposed to graduate from high school in Arizona in 2007, but instead of graduating I dropped out. School was difficult because I had a hard time focusing. In 2008, I left Arizona and moved to Vermont to live with my aunt and uncle. I wanted to go back to school, but all I could think about was how much I hated school and how much I had struggled before. I was 19 and had already been out of school for over a year. I thought it was going to be the same struggle, only in a different state.

Finding an Alternative Program

Not knowing what to expect, I enrolled into a high school completion program at The Tutorial Center (TTC) and started fulfilling the credits I needed to graduate. I had class five days a week, and eventually I progressed to the point where I was able to take dual enrollment classes at the Community College of Vermont. I had so much support from instructors at TTC. They made me feel comfortable and built my confidence as a student; I was able to graduate in 2009.

After getting my high school diploma, I enrolled in another program, Bridge to College. This class prepared me for college, and it also led me to an opportunity for a summer job with the Youth Agriculture Program (YAP). When I first signed up for YAP in 2009, I had never done any vegetable gardening, but I thought I'd give it a shot anyway. I thought it would just be a way to make a little money until the next thing came along.

Little did I know that YAP had more to offer than just a summer job. I ended up having a lot of fun working the programs' gardens, doing different workshops, going to the farmer's market, and doing different services within the community. I participated in the program twice, and both times I left the program feeling like I grew in some way. (No pun intended!)

Learning While Growing

At YAP, we had three gardens to work in. One garden was located at the local middle school. On Tuesdays, we worked there, harvesting crops and baking cookies in the Home Economics room to sell at the Farmer's Market. I still drive by the various plots we tended, and I marvel at how developed they have become. Each time I drive by and see youth working, I always hope they can learn as much about gardening and the community as I did.

Now that I have learned about growing vegetables, I can't wait to have my own garden one day and make dishes like pesto and tabouli with my own harvest.

While working in the program, we met interesting people and attended different workshops. At one workshop, we learned about bees and their importance to the environment and to food production. Having a hands-on opportunity to tend the hive made the experience even more memorable.

We also had a workshop where we learned how to do worm composting. This was neat because it showed us an inexpensive and fast way to make compost, even if you have a small garden and limited space.

At one of the nutrition workshops, those of us who were soda drinkers in the group (including myself) had the chance to physically see and touch the amount of sugar being consumed in just 8 ounces of soda or supposedly "healthy" juices or drinks. It was an eye-opening experience.

Fulfillment and Inspiration

It was fulfilling to get out into the community and provide a service while being able to learn about various topics like bees and nutrition. While doing all these different services, the program also made us think about future employment. We built resumes and discussed ways we could build off our successes in the program. I participated in the program again in 2010, and this time I was not a participant, but more of a mentor.

YAP inspired me to continue my education after high school and become more involved in the community. I work during the day and take night classes. I participate in various community events like Relay for Life and Bark for Life (which support the American Cancer Society) and the Penguin Plunge (which supports the Vermont Special Olympics). Overall, YAP teaches you to put your best food forward. The motto that guides YAP's work holds true, not just for food, but for whatever we do in our lives: "Always do your best. What you plant now, you will harvest later." - Og Mandino.

Renette Gonzalez is a student at the Community College of Vermont, and she is almost done with her Medical Assisting degree.

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