Moab Happenings Archive
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Youth Garden Project “Makes Everything Else Worth Doing”
By Carrie Switzer

In the heat of Moab’s Dog Days, when many feel their energy wilting on the vine, a handful of local youth are literally seeing the fruits of their labors thrive. Their workplace, The Youth Garden Project, is a cool, shady oasis next to Grand County High School; two acres and a restored, historical home that serve as office, classroom and mini-farm for the sole purpose of providing something fun and useful for area kids to do. Over the course of the summer up to 96 kids have enjoyed working and playing here, and many more take their efforts out to the community month in and month out.

Executive Director Cari Militano has watched the Youth Garden Project grow from humble beginnings as an after school program for teens in trouble to a multi-faceted program with a niche available to anyone interested. The Youth Garden Project hosts a summer camp of art, drama and outdoor adventure for 6- to 11-years-olds geared toward working families (daily, 9-5); year-round after school classes and projects offering high school credits for students; 10 part-time Americorps jobs for students; a Farmer’s Market; and community service in the form of helping Moab residents with limited abilities and/or access with yard maintenance and gardening.

“The Youth Garden Project started out with a woman and a vision and someone with land,” Cari says of the project’s first year, 1996. “Kelly Green had land on 400 East and Sarah Hefron had the vision. They put their heads together to make it happen.”

Cari has been with the Project for four years, starting as a teacher and taking over as Executive Director when Sarah Hefron left that position. The Project began with very few kids, all of them referred by the court system. It culminated the first year with a Fall Harvest Celebration that continues annually. The whole community is invited to a feast of home grown entrees prepared by the youth and their advisors.

Another annual event occurs on the opposite end of the calendar year, the mouth-watering Chocolate Lover’s Fling. This February event (a perfect Valentine date) has made local bakers and candy makers famous among their neighbors, and is the project’s major fundraiser. Attendance is free to those who prepare a dessert, and their wares are put up for sale and judging. There are professional and non-professional categories. Scrumptious fun!

This year Colin Fryer and the Red Cliff’s Lodge will contribute to the Youth Garden Project’s fundraising efforts by including it as one of three beneficiaries of a Labor Day Weekend golf tournament, river float and carnival (see sidebar). Cari said the event, which will also benefit Seekhaven and SPLORE, two other local non-profit organizations, will likely be an annual one.

As one of 7 Americorps programs in Utah, The Youth Garden Project employs 20 people. Four of them are full-time Vista workers, taking care of behind the scenes details such as recruiting volunteers and organizing the Farmer’s Market. There are two head gardeners who teach classes and run the after school programs, Part-time employees who work with the National Park System and 10 reduced part-time jobs for high school students or adults working toward a stated educational goal.

The Farmer’s Market effort is two-fold, Cari says. This year there are 10 vendors, the core of what Cari and the Youth Garden Project board of directors hopes to become a collective of growers for economic development. The other aspect, of course, is to market the Project’s own prolific harvest.

Early on the Youth garden Project erected its first permanent structure in the community when the high school students involved at that time wanted to stake out a place for themselves closer to the high school. The result was the construction of a pond in the shape of a dinosaur right behind the high school; a cool and shady place.

Now, Youth Garden Project facilities are within eye view of the high school, at what was long known as The Holyoak House. Grand County School district board members labored for over a year about what to do with the home, which had historical value but needed a lot of work. The Youth Garden Project approached the District with a proposal to locate there and educate students, put them to work while seeking out funds for restoration. The district agreed, and ultimately the Grand County Historical Preservation Society restored the house as a donation to the group.

“”We really appreciated the support of the Moab community,” Cari said. “I say this on behalf of the whole Youth Garden Project, because it is the community’s support that allows us to provide what we do for the youth.”
And how does Cari describe the services provided?

“The Youth Garden Project does a lot of things, but the number one thing is it assists youth in positive ways. It helps them find a place for themselves, provides a work ethic and makes everything else worth doing.

“They work in the garden and leave with a sense of self.”

The Youth Garden Project is a Utah non-profit organization, located at 530 S. 400 East in Moab; phone: 435-259 BEAN (2326); fax: 435-259-2329.

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