How YouthBuild Louisville is creating a greener more sustainable community
By Josh Miller
Photos by Josh Miller and Youthbuild Louisville
“The campus was one acre of rocks and the shop building,” said Lynn Rippy, YouthBuild Louisville President & CEO about the 20-year-old organization’s green campus located in Smoketown. “Our 35 YouthBuild students work alongside AmeriCorps volunteers each year to build out the greenhouse, gardens, chicken coop and orchard.” The development of the campus has been part of YouthBuild Louisville’s work to provide education, job training and leadership programs to low-income young adults, ages 18-24, with the goal of helping them realize their potential as active community leaders and an educated workforce for Louisville.
Over the past ten years, since the development of the green campus began, it has grown to include an urban farm, hand-made raised garden beds, an orchard, a water remediation garden and more. YouthBuild’s Urban Conservation Corps program, which launched full-time in 2019, is “a broad environmental education curriculum, with a strong focus on job placement.” According to Jade Glore, Urban Conservation Corps Manager, this includes a focus on “how broader environmental concepts can trickle down to everyday life.”
Jade went on to share that the program, which will expand to support 10 full-time students in 2021, includes different focus areas. These areas include learning proper animal maintenance for the 16 chickens, a peacock and the four turkeys on-site, gardening, harvesting, understanding soil structure and nutrients, sustainability including recycling and composting and partnering with community organizations.
When asked about the impact of the program, Kinzee, an 18-year-old participant, said it highlighted “all the ways you can conserve through the things you do every day. It made me aware of how much you use in everyday life from the amount of water you use to the trash you create to how much money you can save when you conserve.” As an example, Kinzee said, “My family used to buy bottled water, we’ve saved at least $50 by now since I started the program.”
Kenyetta Johnson, known as “Kenny,” the Urban Conservation Corps Program Assistant, talked about multiple community partnerships. She said that, “Bernheim was amazing,” as the group reflected on the six-week class with the Bernheim Forest staff. The class activities ranged from the removal of invasive species to an introduction to many of the organization’s departments, including landscape architecture. Another priority for Kenny, access to food, is exemplified by YouthBuild’s partnership with Dare to Care.
Holding her son Justice, program participant A’aliyania said, “I would recommend the program because there are careers in urban agriculture, environmental studies and environmental justice.” A’aliyania noted that programs like YouthBuild’s Urban Conservation Corps introduce you to a world of possibility, ranging from jobs working with Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest or Jefferson Memorial Forest to Metro Parks or MSD.
What’s on the horizon for the program? “We just received confirmation from Beechmont Open Air Market that we’re on their list for the upcoming season,” said Jade. “We’ve had a lot of production and harvest on the campus, and [that experience] expands job skills for students including the ability to market their own products. Many students want to own their own business.” At the market, they plan to sell the handmade raised garden beds, fresh produce and herbs that can be grown and sold, jams created by students and honey from the bees in the orchard.
The raised garden beds represent an intersection between the Urban Conservation Corps program that uses them and the construction training program that constructs them. Built from Eastern Redcedar lumber, they provide an accessible way to grow plants on campus and a revenue stream for the nonprofit. Jade noted that, “You don’t have to bend over to interact with them,” so they are great for people who may want to garden in their yard but don’t have the physical mobility to do so without a raised bed.
“We sold $26,000 of garden products in 2020,” shared Donna Schuster, Development Director at YouthBuild. “People call for everything from custom planters that look like ladders to our more traditional product line, which includes wood benches, garden boxes in two heights, a potting table and herb boxes.”
From peppers to tomatoes to sunflowers, once the spring growing season is underway, the campus of YouthBuild Louisville will be alive with color and activity. I encourage you to stop by to see for yourself the amazing work they’re doing for our community and to learn more about how you too can help.
800 S. Preston Street
Louisville, KY 40203