November 26, 2014

Crew leader Sidney Walters shows Chair Kafoury around the Hands of Wonder garden.
Crew leader Sidney Walters shows Chair Kafoury around the Hands of Wonder garden.
For a second year in a row, youth participated in the Farmer’s Market, a product sales skills portion of the Hands of Wonder garden program.  From March to November, the youth not only grew and harvested vegetables but also sold them at monthly farmers markets at the Juvenile Justice Complex and Multnomah Building on Southeast Hawthorne.

This year, staff and youth hosted more farmers markets throughout the spring, summer and fall than year’s past -- totaling 15 days of sales. The expansion allowed 28 youth get valuable training experience. It also raised $2,486 that went to the farmer’s paychecks. Vegetables sold ranged from lettuce, bok choi, and vegetable starters at the beginning of the season to tomatoes, melons, and peppers sold during the late summer and fall.

The Hands of Wonder garden program works with youth who are on formal probation and who are on an informal/non-probation program. Youth apply and are chosen to be a part of the program. The goal is to teach young people garden and workplace skills while also providing job-skills training. Seven youth are accepted into four sessions per year. The youth earn a stipend of $599.99 for eight weeks. They work two days a week.

According to Ruben Gonzalez, a young man who completed the program, it helped him develop valuable skills. “I got to talk and persuade people to come and buy the product that we planted,” said Ruben, “We learned dependability by having to show up after school and help sell our product at the farmers market.”

Gonzalez also shared how much he appreciated program staff. “I loved the people, our staff especially for showing us and teaching us the knowledge they acquired on their road to success.“

Multnomah County restorative justice coordinator, Sidney Morgan, who runs the five-year-old program, was pleased with how much interest the program has generated. “Hands of Wonder has gotten so popular now, I have a waiting list of young people interested in participating,” said Morgan, “It’s inspiring to see the youth’s interest and commitment to this program. I firmly believe that our youth need opportunities in which they are held accountable for their poor choices, and they can truly move forward in their communities, prepared with skills that will offer at least one more open door.”

This year also brought a celebration of the youth’s commitment at the first ever “Farm to Table” dinner. The dinner was intended to bring the community together to support youth making strides by learning life and work-skills necessary for future jobs while also completing community service. County Commissioners Judy Shiprack and Diane McKeel along with Multnomah County Presiding Judge Nan Waller and Christina McMahan, director of juvenile services, joined others to feast on food grown by the youth and prepared by staff and youth working at the Courtyard Café’s culinary arts program.

With this year’s success, Morgan is excited to keep the momentum going. Her future plans include hosting another Farm to Table dinner as a community event, offering food samples at the markets made by the youth in the culinary arts program, and offer recipe cards.

For more information about the program and for contact info, go to the Hands of Wonder Garden Program website. The site also features a video of one young man’s experience in the program, check it out.