Summer ‘Earth Team’ pays teens to grow produce

Members of the West Michigan Earth Team rinse freshly picked green beans. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A group of high schoolers is spending the summer growing vegetables from seed and giving the produce away within its local community.

The West Michigan Earth Team is in its third year, sponsored by the Kinney Group at 2425 W. Michigan St., which chose to use extra acreage on its property to plant a half acre garden and create a summer program where high schoolers learn to plant produce. Much of the plants are grown from seed, but some are started in a greenhouse. The food is then donated to local families in need.

“I’m learning how to make food myself — grow it, plant it, I learn how to take care of it,” says Trayron Farral, a rising sophomore at Ben Davis High School.

Farral first learned of the summer program through a friend who had participated. The program is only available to six high school students each summer. First time participants are paid $8.50 an hour while returning participants earn $9 an hour.

“They learn what the plant looks like, what the fruit looks like, what to do with the fruit, different recipes, how to cook it and they also learn what it means to give back to their community,” says Karen Young, the garden supervisor for Earth Team.

Teens spend at least 40 hours a month doing work for Earth Team, which includes maintaining perennial beds along the White River and painting murals over tagged areas on the near west side.

Earth Team members work in the garden.
Earth Team members work in the garden.

On Tuesday afternoons, the Earth Team harvests upwards of 60 plastic grocery bags full of fresh produce then hands out those bags to people in need. The handout coincides with a handout from Gleaners Food Bank which takes place in the Kroger parking lot at West Michigan and King streets.

“First, it was an intimidating experience because that’s a lot of people you don’t know,” says Diamond Buie, a rising freshman at IUPUI and a second year participant in the program. “But the people, they’re very thankful for it and I like to see them walk away with a smile on their face.”

This year, Earth Team is entering its homemade strawberry jam into the Indiana State Fair. Judging takes place at the beginning of August.

High school students can apply to be part of the Earth Team by visiting the Kinney Group’s website.

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