27 Oct 2011

Toledo GROWs Shows Teenagers More than Just Gardening

Author: Anna Christoff | Filed under: Student Contributor

By Anna Christoff

Outside of the Toledo GROWs greenhouse cars rushed by on their morning commute and the air smelled of fumes.  But inside the greenhouse the air smelled crisp and refreshing.  It seemed as though a small rural area was placed in the midst of Toledo.

Eric Jones caught a tilapia from one of the many fish tanks at Toledo GROWs. Photo by Anna Christoff

Inside, teenagers began to get ready for their day at work.  Eric Jones, junior supervisor at Toledo GROWs, grabbed a net and caught a tilapia out of one of the fish tanks.

Jones proceeded to collect honey from the beehives and throw scraps of food to the crowing roosters and egg laying hens.

He easily rattled off the name of every plant in the greenhouse and explained how the fish farms work.

The community garden outreach program, Toledo GROWs, brings the botanical garden to those living in the Toledo area by giving them free plants and helping them develop gardens.  Toledo GROWs works with schools, churches, community centers, neighborhood groups and public housing sites.

Toledo GROWs, a job training program of Toledo Botanical Garden, started in 1998.  More than 100 Toledo teenagers are employed each year to work in community gardens.  All of the young adults employed have committed a felony.  Once the teenagers finish their probation and community services and are in full compliance with the court they can interview for the program.

“This is a program that will help you build job skills up so you can go out in the community and get your own job,” Jones said.

“The program has helped me go to college so I can get my associates degree to become a social worker, then I plan to transfer to UT to get my bachelor’s and master’s.”

The chickens at Toledo GROWs eat in their coop. Photo by Anna Christoff

Michael Szuberla, program director for Toledo GROWs, has been working with the program since 2001.  He said the program started out small but has gotten big very fast, mainly because of how much work the teenagers put in.

The Toledo GROWs program saves taxpayers money by getting juveniles involved with a positive program so they will not re-commit crimes and have to be held in a facility, he said.

“It is about $325 a day to incarcerate a juvenile, which works out to be about $125,000 a year.  So our program is very inexpensive in comparison,” he said.

75 percent of teenagers who went through Toledo GROWs don’t re-commit serious crimes within a year of completing the program, said Charlie Johnson, youth program manager at the Lucas County Juvenile Justice Center.

According to the Lucas County Juvenile Justice Center, 69 percent of teenagers in youth treatment programs did not re-commit serious crimes.

“For the kids who work at Toledo GROWs, the program is a stepping stone for them to get their GED and eventually go onto college,” Johnson

The beehives at Toledo GROWs are home to over 270,000 bees. Photo by Anna Christoff


The teenagers learn beyond what they work on at the gardens, he said. They are learning valuable job and people skills.

“We teach these kids how to assemble things, how to feed chickens, how to cut grass and how to show up to work on time, many of them just need to be taught these things,” Jones said.

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