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Growing cool kids: Golightly Agriscience Program plants seeds for healthier community

On a tour through the greenhouses at Golightly Career and Technical Center’s Belle Isle annex, Agriscience instructor Renee Bryant smiles with pure delight at the bounty surrounding her. “I’ve been here going on 15 years, and it’s still like a new toy to me. I get so excited.”

She shows me some radish starters that adored their temporary home in the greenhouse so much that they grew into plump, pink giants bursting out of their two-inch pots – before ever making it into someone’s spring garden. 

The students in this program, who are in grades 10 and 11 and attend 2 and a half hours each day as supplement to their academic work at their home high schools, are also healthy and growing. 

Demetrius Evans, who has been in the program just half a year admits that he loves it and plans to attend next year: "I like learning new things about what you can plant and how to plant it, learning about all the vegetables I’ve never heard of and flowers that I’ve never seen."

Confident with his gardening skills, he’s looking for a community garden to volunteer with this summer and plans to start a garden for his mother, with a goal to have it planted by her mid-June birthday.

Deshawn Perry, a first year student, has also learned a lot from the program. She sees how gardening can strengthen neighborhoods. "Gardening and community can be connected because if everyone works together to garden in the community, the community will be a better place," says Perry. "A lot of the communities are very dingy because people feel the need to throw trash all over the place. If everyone would get together, clean up the trash and grow a little garden then it would be better."

Bryant, and her Agriscience instructor co-worker, Ellen Moro, say that one way the Golightly Agriscience Program contributes to making the community more livable is by raising transplants for 50 or more community gardens each year and providing educational workshops for the public. 

For example, in late May, during the annual Golightly Agriscience Plant Sale, students demonstrated how to create potted planter arrangements. The students are also involved with other community projects: water testing and beach cleaning at the Belle Isle Beach; growing native plants for the Belle Isle forests; recycling paper products, plastics, bottles, and plant pots and flats; and cleaning up their town on City of Detroit clean-up days. 

During the school year, students rotate through the Agriscience curriculum, which gives them broad exposure to a number of topics, including food safety and nutrition, environmental education, hydroponics, floral design, sustainability, vegetable and flower production, and market sales and services.  

The six-week nutrition and meal preparation sessions contribute to public health in a very direct way. "The students come in here eating candy and thinking that McDonald’s is a healthy meal," says Bryant. "We make them more aware of what a healthy meal really is."

"I’ve learned that there’s a lot of sugar in the stuff we eat on a daily basis, and it’s killing black Americans," says Perry. "So, my family switched to whole grains, half-percent cheese and milk. We cook with more vegetables, less salt, less sodium. I brought that back to my family. My sisters actually feel a whole lot better. We have more energy now that we have better nutrition."

Golightly grows all of its edible crops naturally, using organic techniques. Students learn where their food comes from and how it’s processed. "The program has expanded in the last two years to include sustainable practices and environmental education, which the students can take back into their communities and their daily lives," says Moro. 

Clearly, Golightly Agriscience offers students an enlightening experience, and most students who complete program go on to college. Some enter horticulture or environmental fields. In fact, the current president of the Golightly Agriscience Advisory Board, who is a former student from the program, worked at Eastern Market and is now in school learning how to build and repair wind turbines. 

Bryant is especially excited about this idea. She dreams of having a wind turbine and passionately wants a modern hoop house to add to Golightly’s cluster of aging greenhouses. She says that the program often struggles with lack of supplies, such as soil, seeds and plant tags, and is always in need of more funds to operate and expand. 

"We need money to move forward. I would love to have a hoop house completely run by solar energy, says Bryant. "Just being here isn’t enough to advance and be going where everybody else is going."

The public can help to support the program with donations of supplies (soil, pots, seeds, plants, plant markers, etc.) and monetary donations to Golightly Agriscience Advisory Board, Golightly Career and Technical Center, 900 Dickerson, Detroit, MI, 48215.

This story first ran in Mode Shift: Move Together, a publication of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

Read more articles by Melinda Clynes.

Melinda Clynes is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Model D. She is the statewide project editor of Michigan Kids, a series of stories that highlight what’s working to improve outcomes for Michigan children. View her online portfolio here.
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