TEENS GROW GREENS:
IN FRANKLIN HEIGHTS
8 | 5 |16
by Dominic Inouye & Ryan Graham
This is a follow-up article to the one RM posted
on August 1st by guest contributor Anna Marie Zorn.
It is easy to drive by and miss Fred’s Garden--at least it was for me this past Wednesday.
I couldn’t see it from the one-block, one-way stretch of West Finn Place, in the Franklin Heights neighborhood. Confused, I drove around the block three times, wondering if the address Charlie had given me was correct (awkward email ensued). I probably drew attention from some of the neighbors. Third time’s a charm, though. When I had circled for the third time back onto Finn, I saw people getting out of their cars and walking into what looked like a vacant lot across from the house address I had: the lot with the big sign that said “Reggie’s Orchard.”
Feeling slightly stupid that I had failed to look to my right as I drove by, I grabbed my notebook and phone and followed them, assuming they were with Teens Grow Greens and assuming Fred’s Garden was somewhere among the trees.
I Can Do It, You Can Do It: Yoga in the Orchard
I was expecting that I would spend a little time talking to Charlie Uihlein, the founder of Teens Grow Greens, get a little tour, talk to some of the youth, perhaps write a short story for RelevantMilwaukee. I imagined I’d see kids picking kale and lettuces, perhaps even some squash or early tomatoes. I knew that TGG met from 10am - 2pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so I figured I could stay awhile today, then return another day.
What I wasn’t expecting to see in the orchard of young trees were nine young people on yoga mats, in variations of the lotus position, breathing to the reverberating sound of a Tibetan singing bowl. A woman who I would learn was Pam Miller, a yoga instructor at Carmen High School of Science and Technology-South Campus, encouraged the Kids and Teens* to do some bitilasana (“cow”) and marjaryasana (“cat”) stretches with their chests, pressing their chests forward, then rounded their shoulders forward: “The opening of our hearts forward represents giving. The opening backward is so we can receive.” And because the 10 am humidity was saturating the air, she taught them the sitali (“cooling”) pranayama (“control of breath”) to help them cool down. Those who could curl their tongues did, making faces at each other (how can you blame them?), and those who didn’t pretended to suck through a straw. A sometimes practicer of yoga, I joined them on the ground, my shirt already damp. We inhaled through our pierced tongues and breathed out through our noses. Pam’s voice, friendly, inviting, and jovial, drew everyone in.
Instead, I found myself doing surya namaskara (“sun salutations”) to a song that Pam (and some of the Kids) sang. This encouraging song, I discovered later, was written by Kira Willey for children:
Sun Salutation, Dance for the Sun,
Sun Salutation, Dance for the Sun,
Sun Salutation, Dance for the Sun,
I can do it,
You can do it,
We can do a Sun Salutation!
Stretch up high, (into the sun)
Hang down low, (tickle your toes)
Feet jump back, (just like a frog)
Belly on the ground, (just like a snake)
Look at the Sun,
Now Downward Dog.
And Breath, (and breath)
And Breath, (and breath)
Even though it was a song meant for children, I found it oddly soothing (and instructive). Next, Pam had everyone get back-to-back with a partner, link arms, then slowly walk their feet out until both partners were sitting on the ground. That was challenge enough--some Kids and Teens got stuck, others fell--but then they had to lift each other back up. I tried with one young man who had been observing and taking notes the entire time (turns out Ryan Graham is a recent Teens Grow Greens graduate and now a TGG Educator--and co-author of this piece!). He dropped his notebook and we went down and back up with no problem. Feeling accomplished, we both returned to our notebooks as Pam could be heard asking the youth why they had done that even though it was hard. “If something is hard, are we going to give up?” she asked. They all answered, “No!” “If we are going to have a growth mindset,” she continued, “then we have to try what is hard.”
I had guessed that perhaps Pam was a one-time guest yoga instructor, a treat for the youth, a way to focus their minds. It was both a treat and way to focus, as well as, Ryan told me, “a way to get people relaxed and comfortable. We used to just start right away pulling weeds and harvesting.” But it was more than that. Every time TGG meets, they begin with yoga. The key words for me were “growth mindset.” The Kids weren’t perfect yogis, of course, but they took it seriously, even when they fell down. Of course, it was hard not to giggle, but they got up again, tried again, and I saw some pretty nice adho mukha svanasana (“downward dog”) and surya namaskara!
After about half an hour, the Teens and Kids split up. Some remained to conclude the yoga session, others walked to the back of the lot where Fred’s Garden was (finally, what I had come to see!), still others walked past the Garden, down the driveway of a house that used to be owned by Fred Prather, and across the street to the kitchen of Benjamin Franklin School on Nash and 24th. I followed Ryan and the kitchen crew. On the way, Ryan explained how he was a 17-year-old senior at Carmen’s North Campus, and I explained to Ryan my mission for Relevant Milwaukee, including the “uplifting” etymology of the word relevant. He smiled, acknowledging that he understood why that word was so important.
Lessons in Food: Skills for Home and Life
The kitchen and adjacent gym (with an industrial fan blowing) were a welcome temporary respite from the heat.
I learned that the Teens and Kids were going to be cooking something tasty today with Lisa Kingery, a registered Public Health Dietician, and CEO of FoodRight, Inc., which specializes in nutrition-based education. Kingery wrote the Youth Chef Academy middle school curriculum in 2005, in response to the absence of any cooking-based programs in Milwaukee Public Schools, coupled with a high obesity rate throughout Wisconsin. She went on to expand Youth Chef Academy to elementary schools with Growing Chefs and now works with between 6-12 MPS schools each year, offering 10-week sessions. “It’s a reinvented home economics program, which was eliminated from MPS in 1983.”
Kingery was accompanied by the two women who run the school’s kitchen, Pat and Moriah. I didn’t get a chance to talk much to Pat (on my next visit I will), but Moriah shared why the Youth Chef Academy curriculum was so important to her: “I grew up on fast food and lots of processed food. But this program is about understanding about farm-to-table, garden-to-table food.” We talked about how being in the kitchen, learning about food, and cooking it themselves, “gives them knowledge and tools they can use at home.” Last week, for instance, the teens and kids learned knife skills. Moriah added, “it shows them that fresh food can taste good.” Moriah, who admits “learned how to cook from PBS,” is currently going to school to become a registered dietician like Lisa. In fact, Lisa teaches the lessons on Wednesdays and Moriah teaches the same lesson Saturdays, making observations about how Lisa taught it and learning how she can make it her own a few days later.
Today, the Teens and Kids in the kitchen made an Indian vegetable pulao (that I didn’t get to eat--again, on my next visit!), akin to an rice pilaf. But before they started measuring and sautéing and stirring, Lisa led them in a lesson about the main ingredient with which they would be working: rice.
It was all hands-on, like much of the TGG program. Lisa poured white and brown rice into her hands. The Teens and Kids picked out their own kernels of each and held them in their hands. Then Lisa led them through a Socratic dialogue of sorts about grain: “What other kinds of grain are there? Isn’t there a grain that many people eat for breakfast? Why is the white rice white? Does it grow like that? If not, how did it get like that? What makes the brown rice different from the white rice?” To that last question, Niya, one of the Teens, answered, “It’s closer to its natural state.” This, of course, was correct--and something that they had learned the previous week, which made Lisa proud and complimentary. The lessons were sinking in. Like Pam Miller’s, Lisa’s voice was friendly, inviting, and jovial, never condescending or rushed. She wasn’t about to jump into the pulao without the Teens and Kids know what was going into the dish and why it was important.
She continued with handout straight from biology class: a cross-section of a whole grain kernel. The bran, germ, and endosperm prompted another round of Socratic dialogue as Niya, Desire, Jessica, and Bobby learned about and began to retain fairly quickly the fiber, vitamins, and minerals in the bran, the fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals in the “baby” of the kernel (the germ), and the pure carbohydrates and energy of the endosperm. Lisa brought out a big stone mortar and pestle, poured some brown rice into it, and showed them how to grind it down to a powder; they took turns making rice dust. But it was also a lesson: “Is this powder still a whole grain?” That was a tough one for Bobby, especially since he had just made the rice look very un-whole. But Lisa guided him and the other three to understanding with more gentle questions. “I love white rice and white pasta,” Lisa told the four future chefs. “But they’re refined grains, pure energy, with none of the good stuff that brown rice or whole grain pasta has, no matter what form it’s in.” To Lisa’s surprise, Desire exclaimed confidently, “I’m going to change what I eat at home.” Lisa: “You’re going to change because of what we’ve just been talking about? I’m going to cry.”
Well, no one cried. But cooking commenced soon. I returned to the garden to see how harvesting and selling was going, but when I returned to the kitchen a little later, the kitchen smelled of oil and spices. This year, Pat, Moriah, and Lisa told me, the youth were exploring the world through cuisine. Lisa opened the curriculum book of recipes, where I learned that I had missed minestrone and Guatemalan soups, zucchini fritters with a yogurt-garlic sauce, spiced apple compote, oatmeal pancakes, and hummus.
Lesson. Cooking. And then map time, where Teens and Kids gathered around a large laminated world map and made sure they could find India on the map. They pointed out other countries and regions, too, whose cuisines had helped expand their palates: Guatemala, the Middle East, Scotland, and so on.
Gardening is Fun: From Harvesters to Sellers to Entrepreneurs
When I had returned to the garden earlier, Alex Young, TGG’s Garden Manager who helped plan the garden with the interns (see the transformation here), was helping Teens and Kids harvest. I spoke with one of the Teens named Ja’Kobe, who was helping some Kids dig up and bunch carrots from the ground, hardened by the blistering heat of this summer. A junior at Riverside High School, Ja'Kobe heard about TGG while hanging out with his friends after school at the adjacent Urban Ecology Center. A TGG representative came to UEC and told visitors there about the internship opportunity. “So you just said, ‘Yeah, I’d really like to spend two days a week digging up carrots?’” “Of course,” he said. “Gardening’s fun.”
He had wanted to learn how to harvest the Swiss chard, so Ryan showed him where to cut it and how much to bunch for selling. While they were harvesting, they began to tell me about the entrepreneurial part of the internship experience: creating their own product for sale. With a $100 budget for each intern, students brainstorm, develop, create, then sell (at different farmer’s markets like Westown Farmer’s Market at Zeidler Union Square) a natural product. Before he graduated, Ryan created a lip balm. Ja'Kobe wants to create a lotion (“I love lotion”), but is thinking he might reconsider. When I moved over to the vegetable stand across from Ben Franklin, Dayjon, a junior this year at Carmen, was helping Kids sell the carrots and chard and basil they’d harvested, added that he was thinking about creating some sort of body wash. Teen interns get most of their supplies from Outpost Natural Foods; an initial trip there with TGG can also give them inspiration. Ryan said he tried mixing different kinds of essential oils from the sample bottles to experiment with new scents for his balms.
According to Ryan, kids who come to the program each week typically harvest and sell after beginning with their yoga. Teen mentors “help them with what to say and how to attract customers,” Ryan says. “The number one piece of advice we give the Kids is ‘Be yourself.’ A lot of people are attracted to kids. So we tell them to have fun! No one’s going to be attracted to a Kid acting all stiff and business-like. We let the Kids create their own signs, design sales pictures with the produce and prices, and the Kids get to keep the money they make. It’s all about giving the Kids ownership over their production and work.”
Despite the fact that Wednesday proved to be a little slow for the stand, I am happy to say that I was the first and second customer of the day! A Kid named Damayia, with an inviting smile and articulate pitch, told me about the different vegetables on sale, letting me select a bunch of chard that I had already eyed when Ja'Kobe was picking it. She put that in a bag for me. A few minutes later, I pretended to walk up the street like a stranger and put the two Kid cashiers, Breon and Demari, through the ropes (Alex had just been teaching them how to keep track of sales in a ledger). For a mere 50 cents, I got a nice little bunch of carrots that I had just seen Kids harvesting and cleaning. I told them I planned on cooking them up the next day (perhaps I’ll add a photo here later!).
That Garden Was His Life: A Quick Story From Fred and Fred About Fred
Unfortunately, I had to leave early to attend to my other writing job, but before I left, I met Fred and Fred. “You’re not pulling my leg? You’re both really ‘Fred’?” I had failed to ask whose driveway we were using to get back and forth between Fred’s Garden and Ben Franklin. I had seen two men sitting in the garage shade, enjoying some cold beers, but never stopped to consider that this house might be the one Fred Prather lived in years ago (again, I felt a little stupid).
Indeed, the older gentleman was Fred Prather Jr., son of the Fred Prather Sr., and the younger one was his son, Fred Prather III, whose son is named Fred Prather IV. Fred III urged his father say a few words about his father. Without skipping a beat, he said, “He was the most gentle man, the best man, I ever knew. He raised seven children: four daughters and three sons. He was a lieutenant in the Armed Forces in World War II and Korea, then became a VA Medical Technician. He lived in this house for thirty years, from the time he was 65 to his death at 95.” He continued by talking about the garden that the TGG Kids and Teens had helped revitalize. “That garden was his life. He grew three things: tomatoes, collard greens, and green beans. Those three things are vital to the Black community. When everyone started coming up from the South, so did the food. Funny thing is, I don’t like any of them.” As rain started to soak Fred’s Garden, the yoga mats we had left out, and the vegetable stand, the three of us said our goodbyes. Fred Jr. added before I left: “He was the best father a son could have.” I have a feeling I’ll be talking to these two guys again.
This is where I have to leave my narrative. Before I left, I asked Ryan Graham if he would like to co-author this piece with me. The idea of co-authoring this with him was in my mind from early on that morning. Ryan had told me that it took him awhile to agree to become a TGG Educator, mostly because he thought that it might be weird that he was 17 and the other Teens would be 17. “You know how it could be.” But I ensured him that that kind of peer-to-peer leadership was just as important as the Teen-to-Kid mentoring. It’s clear from just a couple of hours that Ryan is a capable, confident, inspired young man. And now I get to call him my writing peer.
Please enjoy Ryan Graham’s continuation of the TGG story.
I Can Do Better Than That: Getting Energized for a Lesson
After the Teens and Kids in the kitchen were done, at about 12:45 pm, they started heading back over to the garden. This was also wrap-up time for the vegetable stand (good timing, since it started raining anyways!). After everything was taken down and everyone grouped up again, we do what we call an “energizer.” We are working with kids and are well aware of how easily uninterested they can get, so the point of the energizer is to get them back on their toes! The Teens typically start with a team-building energizer (because we want the Kids to feel comfortable around each other) and then let the Kids decide on what other game they would like to play since the timeslot for the energizer is 15 minutes.
After the energizer, we moved on to the main lesson. Each Wednesday, the Teens read a book to the Kids that is centered around the theme of the week. This week’s theme is growth mindsets (if you remember, Dominic wrote about how our yoga instructor worked that into her exercises). The Teens first asked the Kids what it is that they are personally good at, and then what it is that they struggle with. The follow-up was a discussion based on the struggles and ways that each Kid could work toward overcoming those struggles. Next, the Teens had the Kids draw out any picture they wanted.
Once they were done, the Teens asked the Kids to sign their name below their artwork. This is a practice that was taken from our book of the week, Peter H. Reynolds' The Dot, an amazing story about a girl who, frustrated by her teacher’s assignment of drawing, puts a small dot onto a big sheet of paper and then signs it. The next day, she sees her drawing framed above the teacher’s desk and thinks, “I can do better than that.” So she creates more dots of different sizes and tones and sooner than later, her artwork is hung up at an art show for multitudes to see. The Teens read this book to the Kids after they were done with their personal art piece, making sure to ask questions throughout the book such as “Why do you think she keeps drawing different dots?” or “What do her actions remind you of?” The Kids had smiles on their faces as they heard the story and one Kid in particular, Dayja, said she like the book because the girl challenged herself and kept drawing dots every day to see if she could improve each time.
Finally, we always end the day with what’s known as “Roses & Thorns.” A “rose” is a positive comment about the day, and a “thorn” is something that a Kid feels he or she could personally change for next time. Today, one Kid said he was happy that he decided to come (his “rose”), even though he was late (his “thorn”). Another Kid’s “rose” was having fun, but the Kid’s “thorn” was wishing they could have sold out at the stand. We find that the best constructive criticism comes from within oneself, and ending with a reflection like that gives the Kids the chance to take responsibility for themselves and make a positive change in order to become a better person.
In Conclusion: Salute the Sun
It’s me again. Dominic.
I guess that I wouldn’t have known what I missed if I had just left Franklin Heights that day because my internal GPS wasn’t working. But I do know. And I know that I will return. For a young, small operation, Teens Go Greens is changing the way the Teens and Kids see themselves, their neighborhood, their peers, adults--and most of all food.
Any day is a good day that begins with saluting the sun, singing “I can do it! You can do it!”, and pushing one’s limits, has lots of hard work in between, and ends with an energized lesson and reflection.
Namaste, friends. Peace.
About Teens Grow Greens
Teens Grow Greens (TGG) is a partnership between educators and other individuals invested in authentic learning for sustainability, especially in the realm of food security. The non-profit We Grow Greens Inc. was founded three years ago this month by Charlie Uihlein, a former history teacher at Messmer High School. TGG is its foundational program.
TGG blends mindfulness and growth mindset practices, natural gardening practices, education about food systems, and mentorship training for nine Teens currently, who undergo a nine-month skill-building paid internship, with funds coming from sponsors, donations, and the money raised at the beginner farmer’s market stands where the teens sell veggie starts. Interns have a chance to earn more than the starting $7.25/hour (up to $8.50/hour) if they demonstrate all of the positive traits TGG is looking for, such as teamwork, timeliness, integrity, and staying after work to help with cleaning up.
The internship empowers Teens to become responsible, respectful, and healthy leaders of their peers and neighborhood Kids who come to the program twice a week during the summer. In the process, Teens create a portfolio that includes, according to the TGG website, “accomplished goals (supported by visual and written evidence), completed resume with work experience and supportive references, an active savings account,” all of which assist the Teens in obtaining gainful employment and post-graduation “growth opportunities.”
To recruit new Teens, TGG hands out applications at the farmer’s market and offers presentations at a handful of schools in Milwaukee, with applications on hand. Applicants must have a letter of recommendation and must answer the questions on the application (e.g., What did you eat so far today?). After they submit their application, they are scheduled for a short interview.
* From this point on, “Teens” and “Kids” will appear capitalized, as they do in much of the press and social media out there. The capitalizations are a stylish flair added by Ryan Graham--graduate of TGG, current TGG Educator, TGG Instagram Director, plus the co-author of this article--because it makes them appear, in print, more “proper” and important. I’m down with that.
Hover over images for more info
Co-author Ryan Graham!