Research Summary

Long-Term Outcomes of an Urban Farming Internship Program

Benefits of a Young Adult Urban Gardening Internship

Journal of Experiential Education

Research demonstrating the benefits of gardening interventions for youth development led to the formation of the East New York Farms (ENYF) Project. The project recruits youth to participate in a nine-month garden-based internship that teaches skills such as gardening, environmental knowledge, leadership, and self-efficacy. Although researchers had evaluated the short-term impact of the program between four and six months following completion, no researchers had conducted long-term follow-up studies on the efficacy of this or similar garden-based youth interventions. Therefore, these researchers set out to investigate how the ENYF program influences participants’ career trajectories, life skills, community involvement, and environmental attitudes and behaviors.

ENYF recruits youth from diverse backgrounds, between 13 and 18 years old, who live in New York neighborhoods located east of the city. Each year, 33 new and returning interns participate in the program. Students practice sustainable farming; manage farmers markets; discuss food-system-related concerns, such as food access and diversity; and develop possible solutions to problems specific to their community. ENYF aims to use the experience of working on and managing a farm to develop skills to improve involvement and success in higher education and employment.

To investigate the long-term impact of this program, the researchers sent out questionnaires to 107 past participants. The questionnaires included items with open-ended, as well as 5-point Likert-scale response options, and explored topics including current level of education and employment; health-related behaviors; feelings about self, food systems, and community involvement; and leadership skills.

Fifty past ENYF participants completed the survey. For youth between the ages of 16 and 24 in the East New York area, compared with the average rates of attending school (either high school or higher education), a higher than average percentage of ENYF participants who completed the survey were still in school. Further, in comparison with Asian, Black, and Latino young adults living in the East New York area, the unemployment rate for the ENYF participants was below average. Researchers also noted a theme of health-related interests and behaviors among participants. Participants most commonly listed the health professions when asked what careers the participants were interested in pursuing or were currently pursuing or in what subjects they had earned a degree. The questionnaire asked participants to rank from one (“never”) to five (“often”) how frequently they were involved in particular health- and food-related behaviors. The participants scored high for a wide variety of outcomes, including eating fruits and vegetables (4.78), cooking (4.32), and participating in physical activity (4.52). Only 12% of participants indicated that they ate fast food frequently, with many indicating that they almost never ate fast food. Among the health- and food-related questions, researchers also asked about involvement in gardening, as this was a focus of the ENYF curriculum. Participants noted, however, that they did not garden frequently (2.68).

Along with possible benefits of the ENYF internship on health behaviors, the researchers believe the program may have had positive impacts on valuable life skills. The longer students participated in ENYF, for example, the higher the students scored on items related to communication and decision-making. Further, participants recorded high scores on items measuring self-esteem, working with individuals from diverse backgrounds, and the ability to make a difference in the community. Lastly, analyzing the qualitative data from the free-response questions indicated that ENYF provided participants with an awareness of food systems, community, and responsibility; improved communication skills; and a greater sense of self-efficacy. The researchers argue that those skills may benefit the participants not only in the short term but also in the long term, particularly in relation to their educational and employment pursuits.

The Bottom Line

Learning how to work on and manage an urban garden can help high school-aged students develop personal, academic, and professionally relevant skills. Effective urban gardening programs include theoretical topics, such as food access and diversity, as well as practical ideas, such as sustainable gardening and managing farmers markets. Programs that invest in long-term relationships, such as those that last a year or longer, help students develop better decision-making skills, communication strategies, and confidence.