What does growing vegetables have to do with economic security? According to community leaders Kirtrina Baxter of Southside Community Center and Dave Gell of the Black Locust Initiative, teaching young people how to garden is one of the surest ways to build both self-reliance and the entrepreneurial spirit so necessary to creating a resilient and thriving local economy. Sustainable Tompkins could not agree more, which is why Baxter’s Youth Farm Project and Gell’s Trumansburg Middle School Root Cellar were recent recipients of awards from their Neighborhood Mini-Grants Program.

Sustainable Tompkins is eager to support more projects like these and is calling on local citizens and grassroots groups to submit their applications by September 1 for the next round of funding. Over the last two years, the donor-supported program has distributed $14,455 to 35 projects with a goal of encouraging local self-reliance, strengthening neighborhood connections, and promoting long-term community well-being.

Mini-grants awarded in the latest round included:

• $750 to support the Youth Farm Project organized by Congo Square Market, Southside Community Center, Lehman Alternative School, Beverly J Martin School’s Fresh Fruits and Snack Program, Gardens4Humanity, and Three Swallows Farm. The partners will bring together young people from all backgrounds to learn about organic farming techniques, food justice, and nutrition. The students are spending the summer months raising vegetables to be sold at a neighborhood market or served in local schools in the fall.

• $750 to the Black Locust Initiative to create a youth-built root cellar for squash and winter vegetable storage at Trumansburg Middle School. The project is part of an ongoing initiative to engage students in food production at the school and provide real-world applications of math and carpentry skills.

• $630 to Dryden Community Garden for fencing materials to keep deer out of a new community garden on land donated by the Town of Dryden. Organizers hope to encourage those utilizing the Dryden Kitchen Cupboard or living in apartments, trailer parks, or senior housing to take advantage of a chance to grow their own food.

Danielle Klock of Wishing Well Magazine was so impressed by the diversity, ingenuity, and community spirit of awardees in the program that she committed to an ongoing business sponsorship of $300 a month – substantially increasing the amount of funds available to applicants. A portion of Wishing Well’s advertising revenue goes to the sponsorship, so when local businesses support Wishing Well, they are in turn supporting our community. “It’s really a model of interdependence.” says Klock, “Ithaca has so many caring and active citizens – it’s an honor to be a part of making our community more sustainable.”

Neighorhood Mini-grant awards range from $150 to $750, and are made on a quarterly basis. Applications for the next round of grants are due on September 1, and all residents, citizen groups and non-profit organizations of Tompkins County are eligible to apply. To obtain an application form, make a donation in support of the program, or get more information, contact Gay Nicholson: gay@sustainabletompkins.org or call (607) 266-1952.