Fresno EOC: Experiential Learning in the Food Basket of the World

Posted by Amy Storey on May 13, 2016

In Fresno this year, a food- and construction-focused program gives youth ages 18 to 25 living on the street the opportunity to learn practical skills and earn a high school diploma.

 The Food Initiatives at Fresno EOC is a program that acts as a second chance program for youth that have been incarcerated or gone through a hardship that makes the typical high school path difficult for them. 
 
The Food Initiative is led by Jensen Vang, Food Systems Development Manager, and works in partnership with the Fresno EOC Local Conservation Corps. The goal? To teach vocational skills and high school diploma courses for youth and eventually provide food to the community.
DSC_0496.a76ef047d8d24c03823acdf41c4ee7c8.jpgFrom left: Instructor Ryan Nelson, City College Interim President Dr. Cynthia Azari, Rogelio Vazquez, and Jensen Vang
 
Since growing up on a farm, working in farming for over fifteen years, and gaining firsthand an appreciation for the worth and thought that goes into growing food, Jensen has been involved in many food startup ventures.
 
The desire to farm sprouts from experiencing water shortages and lack of availability food for folks in the Fresno community; after mFresno-EOC.jpgany years of working around food, Jensen and the Fresno EOC team realized that there is a better way to farm through new technologies and bring food to people.
 
“In Fresno, we’re the food basket of the world," said Mr Vang. "We’re also number two in terms of poverty rate; we have many pockets in our area that are classified as food deserts. What that means is a lack of grocery stores or lack of food in certain parameters of these areas."
 

Using modern tech to train and teach sustainability

This issues of poverty and low food access are important for the Fresno community and many like it around the country; it makes sense to incorporate the community's real life issues with the education taking place in that community. And the technologies that are helping to solve those issues could also have a lasting impact on the youth that are being trained with them.
 
In this case, the technology in ZipGrow, and the lasting impact is a change in the thoughts and hope of students.DSC_0515.a76ef047d8d24c03823acdf41c4ee7c8.jpg
 
The Food Initiative for the EOC partners with a local charter school: Youthbuild Charter School of California Central. An instructor from the school takes the ZipGrow system and concepts and applies them to classes in construction, math, science, and food.
 
Jensen and the Fresno EOC team have already seen the results of the program in the way that the students think and discuss their futures. Eventually, Jensen says, the team wants to incorporate entrepreneurship classes as well.
 
“Many of the students are thinking of starting their own business. They’re coming up with new ideas and they want to take the new ideas and apply it to the existing vertical frame.” 
 
These are the results that we've seen in many youth-training and community-oriented projects using ZipGrow. Students and participants involved in experiential learning see innovation and match it with their own creativity and the practical skills that they are learning.
 
“They’re getting some solid skills... the learning experience has been pretty amazing. They’re thinking outside of the box and they’re learning, applying, seeing the input and the output and how the outcome can relate to their own daily lives.” 
 

The results? Unlocked career potential.

In short: the Fresno EOC Food Initiatives are helping youth with normally limited life options to unlock their own potential. 
 
“It allows them to define the areas that they see as their strengths and weaknesses, and that helps them identify a career path.”
 
At the end of the program,  students receive a high school diploma and a second chance at pursuing a career. For most of them, the next step is career planning, post secondary education programs, or a job. 
IMG_1056.jpg
There are currently about ninety students enrolled in the program.
 
What will the next step be? Like most of the Upstart Farmers, Fresno EOC is thinking of expanding. Jensen Vang mentioned interest in a Fresno EOC container farm next. And who knows? Maybe some of the students graduating from the program will become Upstart Farmers themselves.
 

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Topics: Upstart Farmers

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