Youth Village and Café Momentum Teach Sustainable Responsibility
By Rita Cook
One way to make sure adults know all the ins and outs of sustainability is by teaching these lessons early in life. Case in point, that is exactly what is happening at the Dallas County Juvenile Department’s Youth Village where young boys ages 13 to 17 have the opportunity to take organic gardening classes while also tending to 12 raised garden beds that are planted with herbs and vegetables several times a year.
In keeping with the Dallas County Juvenile Department goals to rehabilitate youthful offenders, Youth Village has taken on the role of accomplishing this task by offering a common goal for not only the youth, but also the family and the community at large. “Many of our youth have not had the experience of having fresh vegetables available to them,” says Terry S. Smith, Ph.D, Executive Director of the Dallas County Juvenile Services Department. “Not only do we supply restaurants and food pantries, we allow the youth to take what they grow home to their families.
The young men actually learn how to take the plants from seed to harvest and in the spring several rows are also plowed to plant field crops like Purple Hull peas and okra. There are also two covered hoop houses that are used for winter gardening lessons and growing. Even more exciting, organic Tilapia is also being raised in tanks in the middle hoop houses as well. “Our tilapia tank is filled with tilapia, but they are still growing at this point. It too has several layers,” says Smith. “Growing garnish and plants on the top and self-sustaining cycling of water in the middle and the tilapia in the largest bin at the bottom and that equals aquaponics at its finest.”
Established in 2008, there have already been 643 young men involved in Youth Village and according to Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price who is a big advocate of the program, 184 youth graduated from the sustainable green program just last year.
Taking the Youth Village program one step further is Cafe Momentum, a non‐profit restaurant that serves as a culinary training facility for Dallas area disadvantaged culinary students with an emphasis on the juvenile residential facility. Café Momentum began in June of 2011 as a continuation of the Youth Village successes and with 211 youth participating so far there have already been 134 youth gaining employment within one year of release based on University of Texas Dallas data.
Upon completing the program, the boys graduate and receive a certificate. After release from the Youth Village they then have the opportunity to work at Café Momentum for one year. The young men rotate through the entire restaurant, from waiting tables, washing dishes to salad prep and each month a different guest chef volunteers their time and a few recipes to the restaurant. The chef trains the young men to prep, cook, plate and serve their dishes. In addition to seeing the various styles and techniques of the different chefs, the young men are able to leave Cafe Momentum with a list of 12 chefs to use as employment contacts or references.
Currently the Youth Village and Café Momentum experience is only offered to young men, but Smith says there is hope that the Letot Girls Residential Treatment Center, which opens next year, will offer young women the same training and opportunity.
In 2012 Youth Village harvested over 500 pounds of produce from its gardens including cucumbers, tomatoes, jalapenos, watermelons, cantaloupes, squash, zucchini, peas, okra and spinach. “Growing and marketing our vegetables is something our youth will never forget and they can apply these same concepts based on their own scope once they return home,” Smith concludes.
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Rita Cook is an award winning journalist who writes or has written for the Dallas Morning News, Focus Daily News, Waxahachie Daily Light, Dreamscapes Travel Magazine, Porthole, Core Media, Fort Worth Star Telegram and many other publications in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. With five books published, her latest release is “A Brief History of Fort Worth” published by History Press. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org