A quarter-acre garden along Imperial Avenue in southeast San Diego is growing a lot more than vegetables.
“It’s a wonderful food oasis in a food desert in southeast San Diego,” explained Trisha Gooch, of the local non-profit organization Second Chance, which strives to help those struggling with addiction, incarceration, homelessness and more.
Gooch is talking about Second Chance's Youth Garden Program, which teaches the basics of gardening to at-risk kids from some of San Diego’s roughest neighborhoods in low-income communities.
“They want to find peace and security and success in their lives and sometimes they don’t have those resources waiting for them at home,” said Gooch.
The kids work in the garden multiple days a week, after school, growing everything from beets and carrots to different types of lettuces. Then, every Thursday afternoon, they sell the food at a farm stand set up next to the garden. The garden is too small to be certified organic but Gooch said all the food is grown organically.
“It’s so relaxing,” said Jessie Hernandez, 17, a participant of the Youth Garden Program. “This is a safe place, you know?”
But this is more than a safe haven for these kids.
Another one of the teen participants, Devin, fell behind in school and failed a grade. He said the garden is helping him get back on track.
“I feel like this also gives me a sense of responsibility, like a kid with a puppy or something,” he told NBC 7.
The program is meant to give the kids job-readiness training and mentorship. Second Chance pays the kids a stipend to work in the garden. It’s money Trisha Gooch says she’s hoping can keep them out of trouble.
“If they don’t have access to that stipend, we are afraid they might fall back on old patterns. They might be back selling drugs to make money to help their families,” she said.
Second Chance estimates it spends between $8,000 to $10,000 each year per child on its Youth Garden Program. That’s compared to the non-profit's estimate of $127,000 a year to put one kid through the justice system.
These kids see the vegetables through from seed to farm stand in this garden that works both ways.
“I feel like we are growing something more than plants. I feel like we’re growing as people, individually and as a collective,” said Hernandez.
If you’d like to check out the farm stand, the kids set it up every Thursday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in front of Second Chance at 6135 Imperial Ave. You can also find more information on the program here.