Though inundated by fresh herbs and produce, the teenagers who cultivate the SEEDS urban garden in Northeast Central Durham tend to succumb to quick and easy junk food when at home or with friends. So when they needed to raise money for a conference, SEEDS Executive Director Lucy Harris thought a Healthy-Food-a-Thon could be a good fit.
The 15 teens who make up SEEDS’ Durham Inner-City Gardeners (DIG) program agreed to go 30 days without fast food or sodas, collecting pledges by the day. With the help of a Community Care Grant from Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs and the support of other local donors, the kids raised more than enough money to make the trip. And they learned a little something.
“It turns out that if you can’t eat something you’re used to eating, you have to actually think about what you’re feeding your body,” Harris said. “It was a really powerful thing for them.”
DIG was created nine years ago and ever since has empowered local teenagers by teaching them to think more critically about how their actions affect the environment, their own bodies, and the people around them. The teens earn a stipend cultivating fruits, vegetables, herbs and mushrooms, which they sell at the Durham Farmer’s Market.
Harris said the Healthy-Food-a-Thon fit the spirit of the DIG program, which sets high expectations for teenagers. In addition to gardening, the DIG teenagers attend conferences and workshops to speak about the program, and they play a significant part in hiring new DIG youth.
Community funding like that from Durham and Regional Affairs is vital to the program, which currently pays teenagers for 20 hours of work per week in the summer, and less during the off-season. Harris said she’d like to be able to offer more work for the teens, whose other work options pay more but offer far less in the way of education or character development.
“They play a huge role in the direction of the program, so there’s a huge opportunity for empowerment,” Harris said. “This is not your typical job; this is like a family for them.”