Inner-city program uses gardening as a way to protect against gun violence

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A professor at the Ohio State University has found a way to protect kids from gun violence by teaching them how to garden.

"It's a program all about providing positive youth development for young people in urban communities," said Dr. Deanna Wilkinson, an associate professor at the College of Education and Human Ecology.

The program is called Urban GEMS (Gardening Entrepreneurs, Motivating Sustainability). Students grow vegetables using indoor tower gardens at various locations in south Columbus, then sell the fresh produce at local farmers markets.

"In the background, they are learning a lot of science," Dr. Wilkinson said. "We're reading. We're writing. There is all kinds of different ways that this is actually an academic enrichment program."

The gardeners aren't your average growers.

"A lot of the youth that I've worked with have either directly experienced gun violence themselves, have lost siblings [or] have lost parents," Dr. Wilkinson said.

The students now use leafy greens as a way to stay off the streets.

"Just to be around people that I love," said 10-year old Nasir Groce. Groce has participated in the program since it's inception.

"It's teaching me how to run a business," he said. "They don't make fun of me."

Students are the only ones who benefit from Urban GEMS. Groce's aunt, Tiffany works as program coordinator.

"When I started Urban GEMS, I was lost," Tiffany said. "Like I was completely lost. Now, I have a career path, I have a full-time position with Urban GEMS."

There are several locations for Urban GEMS:

  • Family Missionary Baptist Church hosts a gardening after-school program on Wednesdays 4:30p - 5:30p. You are welcome to simply show up for an application.
  • Urban GEMS will be offered to 7th and 8th graders at Millennium Community School on Refugee Road. Your child must be a student in order to participate.
  • Community Extension Center of OSU located at 905 Mt. Vernon Ave. Teens will be recruited for Thursday programming.

If you or your child is interested in participating, you can call (614) 940-5435.