After loading up their crops and setting up a stand at the Ceredo Farmer’s Market, youth from the Stepping Stones Residential Treatment Facility sold their first $100 dollars of produce that they grew on their commercial farm, Growing Hope. Located in Lavalette, West Virginia, Stepping Stones is a child welfare and behavioral health provider for Cabell and Wayne County. The program helps young adults in the foster care system transition into adulthood.
Many Appalachian youth who age out of the foster care system fall into homelessness or substance use disorders. According to Susan Fry, the director of Stepping Stones, transitioning from foster care is harder when the children don’t have trade skills or access to education. “You can’t go out and be a productive member of society if you haven’t had the opportunity,” Fry said. “Whether it be through a university, a community college, or trade so that they can achieve employment that pays a livable wage.”
The Growing Hope farm began in partnership with Green Bronx Machine, a New York City-based nonprofit that teaches children about agriculture and science while creating sustainable sources of employment and nutrition for underdeveloped communities.
“The same economic hardships, the same lack of education opportunities, the same nutrition and health disparities that face the young men in Appalachia are precisely what are facing young men and young children here in the South Bronx,” the CEO of Green Bronx Machine, Stephen Ritz, said.
Growing Hope uses aeroponic tower gardens to grow plants like cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, and a wide variety of leafy greens and herbs. Aeroponics is a process of growing crops without soil, which allows plants to be grown year-round.
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