Before a rapt audience of Trinidad residents, Eden Good cofounder Bonita Bolden meticulously demonstrated the making of natural strawberry jam. A dedicated advocate for healthy, vegan nutritional choices, Bolden stressed the importance of finding substitutes for standard, processed sweeteners like sugar.
Eden Good cofounders Bolden and Patricia Patterson Johnson conceived of Good Seed to address the low level of awareness among inner-city youth about food.
Bolden’s demonstration was one component of the Good Seed event held Aug. 6, at the Trinidad Recreation Center.
“Many District youth reside in ‘food deserts’ and only see their meals-to-be in processed form,” said Johnson. “Most have never been to a farm and know little about what goes on at one. So they give little thought about the journey vegetables and other food make from field to market.”
Bolden and Johnson launched Good Seed as a Summer Youth Employment Project (SYEP). The program enlisted participants from Wards Five, Six, Seven and Eight, where the need has been observed to be greatest.
An inherent challenge was the possibly disruptive tension that could result when teenagers from rival wards were brought together. But the problem failed to materialize as the young people gradually began to cooperate and bond. In fact, the teens named the project Good Seed, intent on countering the negative stereotypes that pervade the city about Black youth.
“Everybody didn’t know each other when the program began,” said Maurice Berry, 15, who Johnson affectionately noted loved his job of raking the garden soil. “Now they do and get along,” said Berry, a Ward 8 resident.
Bryna Brooks, a 15-year-old teen diva, cried when she first came to the program. “I thought it was going to be wild with all the stuff they be doing,” she said. “But now I don’t [cry]; I opened up.”
Project director, Tammi Wilson and mother of Crystal Coleman, 15, said she was initially anxious there would be fights between youth from different wards. Wilson expressed great pride in her daughter’s new-found skill at mixing freshly grown cucumbers and onions from their own backyard with store-bought noodles. “It has matured her,” said Wilson. “I’ve been a serious gardener for years. Now Crystal has learned how food comes from the seed to the table.”
Good Seed’s two-tiered program consisted in part of intensive class instruction about the world of agricultural production and good eating habits, as well as general life skills such as résumé writing and other aspects of productive living.
The second tier involved active gardening, where the young people put their newly-acquired knowledge into practice, working food gardens on plots at the center. The youth planted broccoli, herbs, beans, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables. To top off the project, participants were taken on field trips to the Arboretum and the Department of Agriculture exhibits where they were able to taste exotic yet pleasantly edible plants.
“Kids often don’t connect the dots about where their food comes from,” Johnson said as she bent down over one of the three modest plots to display a ripe red pepper.
“Before, they did not understand the nature of food and food production. These teens didn’t have a full connection with the earth. Now they know it’s hard work but also rewarding.”
Good Seed seemed to generate a uniquely magnetic allure to others. Shanequa Johnson, a University of Florida journalism student in D.C. for an internship, initially came to help the project with media outreach, but was soon drawn in. “When I first came out, I was just going to help them create a press release, but after I got to know the girls I became invested in it,” Shanequa said. “I ended up spending all the time I could with them.”
Johnson looked on with a certain satisfaction as visitors sauntered around the food stalls and then turned back to admire the plots of mature and fledgling vegetables. On the front of two of the plots, extending across from one to the other a slogan read “Many Hands Made This Garden.”
Johnson summed up her feeling about what the program accomplished. ”We’re planting seeds for a lifetime.”
Researcher DeRutter Jones contributed additional material to this story.