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Urban Roots
Austin, TX

Urban Roots is a local nonprofit that combines sustainable agriculture with youth development, and it works. Not just for the teenagers involved but for the entire Austin community. This afterschool program addresses real problems of food insecurity and parity and deftly forges new solutions by combining energy, idealism, and elbow grease.

Access to fresh, high-quality, organic produce is scarce in our poorer neighborhoods and nonexistent for the truly needy: the elderly, the homebound, and the homeless. Childhood obesity has risen as fewer families have time for home-cooked meals, and to make things worse, most Americans have a serious disconnect regarding where their food comes from and how much nutrition it actually contains. As parents struggle to work increasingly long hours for paychecks with less buying power, our communities have become fractured as well: Very few have time or energy to get to know, let alone help, their neighbors. And every year, a new crop of high school graduates is dumped on the job market lacking many of the life skills necessary to thrive.

Raymundo Peña harvesting beets
Photo Courtesy of Urban Roots
The Urban Roots program tackles this whole range of issues in a seamless and synergistic way. In a nutshell, local teens from all over Austin work an acre of land as an afterschool job, acquiring life-changing skills in cooperation, commitment, entrepreneurship, public speaking, self-confidence, and nutrition.

A full 40% of what they grow is donated to local relief organizations, providing high-quality, vitamin-rich food to populations who desperately need it, as well as introducing the young people to the rewards of community service. The remaining 60% of what they grow is sold by the teens at area farmers’ markets, providing local, affordable, organic produce to the city at large. And the money made on sales goes to pay the teenagers a fair hourly wage for their hard work, and in the process, the kids learn about handling money, customer service, and small business.

Rachel Silberman and Araesheon Foley selling squash at the farmer’s market
Photo Courtesy of Urban Roots
Most important of all, these kids get to make a dramatic and positive impact on problems of access and nutrition that more than a few adults have given up on as “unsolvable” and “just the way it is.” To feel that you have the power to address big problems in meaningful ways, especially at that age, is transformative.

Urban Roots is a 501(c)3 organization.