At-risk teens in the Pemberton area will learn the nitty-gritty of agriculture and food services in a new two-year, $200,000 provincially funded project.
Seed to Table will target 14 youth "transitioning into and out of adolescence" each year, with seven Grade 7s paired with seven Grade 11s to learn together about the whole process of growing food and feeding others, from the crops in the ground to the plate at the dinner table, said Geoff Pross, the director of Pemberton Youth and Family Services, who received the funds on behalf of the Mountain Youth Society.
Funding comes from The Community Action Initiative (CAI), a province-wide program that supports innovative mental health and substance use projects.
"The CAI were looking for programs to 'increase protective factors'," said Pross, who spent much of last year building the project and pulling in local support.
The skills emphasized will be leadership, food safety and nutrition, WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) skills, and resume-friendly work experiences. Two training weekends for the students will kick off the project in March, and be followed by weekly meetings and workshops, and monthly field trips to places like the farmers' market, where they will sell the produce they grow. The program follows the growing season, ending in September.
As well as learning themselves, the Grade 11 students will take on a mentoring role for their younger cohorts, and be paid minimum wage rates for the roughly 100 hours of their work. They will also benefit by being more employable, learning about job opportunities in the region, and gain confidence. The Grade 7 students get guidance and life skills training.
Pross said the students would be recommended for the program through their schools and Sea to Sky Community Services counselors. There will be a strong First Nation component, with around half of the young participants coming from that community, said Pross, adding that the Lil'Wat Nation is a strong supporter of the program.
"It's such a [Pemberton] effort, bringing a lot of people together. This was an incredibly important aspect to the funders," he added. "It's great to make [the teens] employable, we want them to give back to the community and have the older kids feel they have a future in staying here."
Pross also cited partnerships with Pemberton Valley Seniors, who will teach kitchen and cooking skills, Pemberton Councillor James Linklater, who is also the Food Safety Co-ordinator at Whistler Blackcomb, will provide opportunities to tour Whistler kitchens and learn about the restaurant service industry at the resort. North Arm Farm owners Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy and wife Trish will teach the students organic farming practices. Pross was also excited about the involvement of Lil'Wat Nation elders who will teach the students wild crafting and salmon fish camp techniques.
Already looking ahead, Pross said he would like to see whatever is learned over the next two years being adopted in Pemberton to help more young people, depending on funding opportunities and other support.
"It would be nice for the project to be sustainable, it has generated enough excitement in the area," he said.