SF Teens Learn to Grow and Market Crops in School Program

by Katrina Schwartz

Students at several San Francisco high schools are learning what any good farmer knows: it's not enough to grow food, you've also got to have strong business skills. San Francisco Unified is betting on school-run gardens to help teach entrepreneurship to kids heading into a competitive summer job market.

Teens at John O’Connell and two other San Francisco high schools have been rolling out of bed early Saturday mornings to set up at the Ferry building. They are hawking crops they've been growing at school this year.

Garden educator Calder Gillam has been teaching his students the importance of customer service, which he thinks will help them get jobs and be more self confident.
"The youth get to interact with the public here, answering questions about the crops and what to do with them and what they’re good for and how we grew them. Showing up at seven AM on a Saturday when they don't have to be here, that's another job skill, life skill, really," said Gillam. 
The money students earn from their crops goes back into the gardening program. The schools took turns selling produce at the Ferry Building.  John O'Connell students earned about $250, which they'll put back into the program.
Students participating in John O'Connell's summer programs will also get to keep an eye on their crops now that school is out, caring for the garden until everyone returns in the fall.
The pilot project is funded by several urban agriculture organizations in partnership with the San Francisco School District. The San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance, the Center for Urban Education on Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) and Urban Sprouts will have to continue fundraising to sustain the program. They'd like to deepen their offerings at John O'Connell, June Jordan and Life Learning Academy on Treasure Island by devoting an entire class to garden education, rather than fitting it into other classes like Health and Economics.
If the money materializes to help keep the program going,  San Francisco Unified says it will look at adding more schools to the partnership. Already other San Francisco high schools have shown interest in the garden program.  
A similar program is underway in elementary schools in Half Moon Bay.