Summer of Solutions Hartford was founded in 2010, as a local chapter of the national youth-run nonprofit Grand Aspirations. We ran our first summer program in 2011. Our team of 8 young people partnered with HART, Knox Parks, Hartford Food System, the Somali-Bantu Community Development Center, and the Zion Street community to build a community garden call Wesley Colbert Zion Street Community Garden. We worked together for 9 weeks to clean two vacant lots on Zion Street, build 120 raised beds, plant a wide variety of vegetables, and host potlucks and art events in the garden. During one of these potlucks, a neighbor rode up to the garden on a bike, and asked if we would be interested in building a garden at the Burns Latino Studies Academy, which is just a few blocks away from the garden.
We met with the principal and representatives from COMPASS Youth Collaborative and created a design and budget to build a garden outside the kindergarten wing. Once word got out that our team was expanding to work on school gardens, we were contacted by the Annie Fisher Montessori School and Trinfo Cafe.
In the summer of 2012, our Summer of Solutions team expanded to 16 young people. We built a new community garden on Broad Street in partnership with the Trinfo Cafe, and built two school gardens at the Burns Latino Studies Academy and the Annie Fisher Montessori School. In the last week of the summer program, we hosted a free summer camp for many of the families and students we had worked with over the summer.
In 2013, expanded yet again, and supported a garden at the Asian Studies Academy, the Connecticut River Academy, and the Moylan Montessori School. Also in that year, we developed leadership trainings for our team in the afternoons. We hosted guest speakers who taught the team about seedlings identification, worm composting, canning, edible wild plants, anti-oppression, and public speaking. We also went on field trips to Ebony Horsewomen, Sweet Pea Farm, and Farmers’ Markets.
After our 2013 summer program, our team underwent a strategic planning process. In order to make our program more accessible to working adults and parents, and to more thoroughly care for the gardens, we decided to expand our program from a 9 week full-time summer program to a 7-month part-time internship.
One of our Program Coordinators, Jennifer, developed a formalized workshop curriculum for the internship based on feedback from former participants.
In 2014, we launched the first year of the Urban Farming Internship on April 1st. We worked at 6 sites, including a new public educational garden at the CT Trash Museum. We worked with a slightly smaller team of 12 interns in teams of three. Our teams dedicated 4 hours/week to each garden between April 1st and October 31st. By extending the amount of time we got to spend at each garden, we were able to design community and classroom activities for each partner site. For example, at the Burns Latino Studies Academy, we worked with 8 different teachers to design activities for their students in the garden that complemented and supported what they were doing in the classroom.
Since 2014, we have been coordinating the Urban Farming Internship program. Our leadership team consists of one of the founders and three former interns.
In, 2015, we worked at six sites including YOUmedia at Hartford Public Library. This site was a very unique yet, fun site for our interns. Our interns were put to the test of building a window garden to show the teens in the YOUmedia center how they can use their environment to garden. After many trials and errors, our interns figured out how to build a window garden (see above)!
In 2016, we organized the Urban Farming Internship into three 10-week sessions. Partner sites can host a team of interns for the spring, summer, fall, or all three seasons! Similarly, interns have the option of applying to 1, 2, or all 3 sessions. Interns that come back for more than one session will co-facilitate the workshop series with Program Coordinators the second time.