by Jeniffer Rulf, co-director of the Urban Nutrition Initiative
Each year, CASA, together with the directors of the Urban Nutrition Initiative (UNI),
organizes an urban-rural exchange program. UNI, a program of the Center for
Community Partnerships (CCP) at the University of Pennsylvania www.upenn.
edu/ccp/uni.shtml, works to improve the nutritional and health status of inner-city
Philadelphia residents by developing and implementing innovative health and nutrition
curricula focused on school gardens, youth microbusiness development (including
farmer's markets and produce stands) and community fitness programs.
To kick off the project each August, CASA director Pete Shear brings Vermont
volunteers on a one week excursion to Philadelphia. There they worked in the UNI -
University City High School garden with urban high school students and UNI staff
members. Despite the brutal August heat, this team of urban and rural high school and
college students maintains the vegetable garden, creates new flower beds, plants fall
crops and harvests crops for the high school students' microbusinesses. These jobs
include harvesting Basil, Rosemary and Oregano for a local Italian restaurant and
vegetables for the Saturday farmer's market, as well as making herbal teas to sell at a
local grocery store.
The Vermont Delegations provide a much-appreciated service for UNI and, together
with high school students, always accomplish a great deal. Equally important however,
are the interactions and relationships that develop from this interchange. Each group
learns about one another's community and personal lives and are greatly enriched from
The UNI Summer Youth Community Program ends each summer with its annual
Vermont Rural Agriculture Summer Retreat, developed in partnership with CASA.
Summer youth works participants travel to Vermont along with UNI staff members.
Traveling from Plymouth to Wheelock to Burlington, and many towns in between, we get
a healthy dose of Vermont life through camping in state parks and on farms, harvesting
and eating farm fresh veggies, sampling rich compost from innovative composting
projects, swimming in, and jumping from rock cliffs into, Vermont’s many lakes and
swimming holes and canoeing on Flag Pond.
Other than two nights spent camping in state parks, we mainly stay at Wheelock
Mountain Farm and at the University of Vermont’s outing cabin in Bolton. Each day is a
mix of scheduled farm tours, cultural events, swimming, and relaxing. Camping with a
large group is hard work as well as fun but with all participants cooperating in cooking
and setting up campsites, the trip is enjoyed equally by all.
Recognizing the enormously humanizing power of cultural exchange and immersion in
the natural world, the directors of UNI are deeply committed to creating such
opportunities for their constituents. We are therefore very thankful for, and excited
about, this growing collaboration with CASA and the many opportunities for enrichment
and connection that it promises for all of us involved.
Urban Nutrition Initiative, Philadelphia PA
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