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Promoting school connectedness among minority youth through experience-based urban farming


Experiential learning through urban farming may promote school connectedness of at-risk students

This case study explored student and parent experiences with a school-based urban farming program in Birmingham, Alabama. Essential components of the program included opportunities for students to participate in (a) experiential, hands-on learning; (b) community service projects; and (c) mentoring relationships.

Seven schools in the Birmingham City Schools System, along with the Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF), participated in this study. Approximately 50% of the students in the Birmingham City Schools live in low-income homes; and all of the schools in the district qualify for Title I, a federally-funded program designed to improve the academic achievement of students who are at risk due to poverty. While JVTF was originally developed to provide locally grown, fresh produce to residents of Birmingham, it expanded its mission to provide food and nutrition education for students in the Birmingham City Schools System. Six of the schools participating in this study have Teaching Farms on the school grounds. The seventh school uses the original JVTF farm site as its Teaching Farm. Throughout the school year, students in these schools participate in Good School Food lessons taught by JVTF staff. Students are also given the opportunity to participate in two related clubs: a Farm Lab Club and a Farmers’ Market Club. The Farm Lab Club, in addition to promoting the development of farming and gardening skills, promotes socioemotional growth by giving students Farm Lab responsibilities and by fostering a team approach to learning. The Farmer’s Market Club, which engages students in selling produce to the public, helps students gain knowledge and skills required for operating a small business.

An experienced facilitator conducted semi-structured focus groups with parents and students from the participating schools. Trained note-takers recorded the discussions. The focus groups lasted approximately 60-minutes and involved a total of 33 students and 25 parents. Focus group results were compared with end-of-year evaluations from students, parents, teachers, and principals.

Findings indicated that JVTF provided rich opportunities for students to learn more about their own personal and career interests, develop life skills, help their families make healthier food choices, and make positive changes in their community. JVTF activities also promoted students’ social-emotional growth through the development of positive relationships with peers, instructors, and parents. JVTF thus provides one example of an innovative strategy for addressing student disengagement in high-poverty urban settings.


Fifolt, M., Morgan, A.F., Burgess, Z.R., (2017). Promoting school connectedness among minority youth through experience-based urban farming. Journal of Experiential Education


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