Learning by growing: Cimarron’s teen garden teaches youths leadership, work skills

LAKE ELMO — The Cimarron youth program hopes to continue helping its community and make a healthy profit through the end of August by selling healthy food.

The Cimarron teen garden program was started in 2010 with the help of FamilyMeans and project leader, Ann DeLavergne.

“We received a grant as part of the statewide health improvement project, which gives money to projects that intend to address issues around obesity and healthy eating,” DeLavergne said.

The original plan was to work with families and put a garden in their yard and grow what they thought they would eat. But Katherine Heilig, FamilyMeans teen program coordinator, said Cimarron managers do not allow gardens to be grown in residents’ yards.

That’s when FamilyMeans decided to get teens involved. The program created a community garden that allowed teens to learn how to grow vegetables while getting paid for their work and providing healthy food for their families.

“This is the second year of the program. We started out with nine raised gardens and sold the produce to the community kitchen last year,” said Heilig. “ Last year we grew just over 300 pounds of peppers, kale, tomatoes, green beans, wax beans and zucchini. It’s all organic and the teens earned close to $1,000 which they split-up based on how much work each of them did in the garden.”

Heilig said the teens wanted to earn more money this year, so they added more garden boxes. Flower bouquets, eggplants and four kinds of peppers and garlic were added to this year’s garden project.

“We learned how to rotate the boxes seasonally because there was a lull last year where everything was planted and the teens didn’t really enjoy that part of the process,” Heilig said.

To combat the gardening lull, the teens have varied what they’ll sell at their new garden stand in the parking lot of Cimarron Golf Course. Birdhouses, bat houses and benches big enough for two adults have been built by the teens during down time and orders for those products are taken at their garden stand.

“It’s a wonderful program and we’ve had up to 28 kids in the project,” DeLavergne said. “We’ve since started up Our Community Food Program as part of the food stand and we’re hoping to bring more food into the community by marketing it to Cimarron, we’re accomplishing our goal too.”

Originally there was some resistance to the idea.

“We have a high Latino population here and they thought they were going to be doing work that wasn’t desirable or valued,” Heilig said. “But now that they see the local, fresh produce going back to their community they think that it’s not such a bad thing to be a farmer or gardener.”

Heilig said that the process has developed leadership skills and changed attitudes as well. Though the group is hoping to keep the garden stand more community-focused Heilig said, “if someone is driving by our stand and they want to buy fresh vegetables, we’d love to sell it to them.”


If you go

When: Fridays through August, 3-6 p.m.

Where: Cimarron Golf Course Parking Lot, 901 Lake Elmo Avenue, Lake Elmo

Cost: Vegetables $3/lb, benches $35, birdhouses and bat houses $25