Urban GEMS is a positive youth development program developed by OSU criminologist Dr. Deanna Wilkinson in partnership with community partners and OSU extension. Through the work of Urban GEMS community youth, parents, and elders come together to grow healthy food and healthier families. OSU students, faculty, and staff have the opportunity to work in collaboration with community youth to make a difference in the community. Urban GEMS implementation sites include Reaching Higher Heights 4-Life Community Care Center and the Millennium Community School. Additional partners include the the OSU AAAS Community Extension Center, the Parsons Avenue Merchant’s Association, OSU Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, the Juice Plus/Tower Garden company, the Garden Tower company, the Aetna Foundation, and the USDA CYFAR program.
The Urban GEMS program was designed to address the well documented link between food insecurity and school failure at a neighborhood level. Addressing both the educational and nutritional (basic needs) of young people growing up in economically challenged environments requires new thinking. Urban GEMS features project-based learning and youth leadership opportunities, which include tackling real and significant challenges facing the African American community.
The Urban GEMS curriculum integrates food systems, nutrition, art, and culinary arts specifically to improve healthy eating and increase skills of healthful living. High school students seeking academic enrichment and positive youth engagement may enroll in the Urban GEMS program at one of three locations. Youth learn the science of Aeroponic food production with the Tower Garden® system; positive youth development for health and wellness (including socio-emotional, cognitive, and nutritional needs for optimal living); food policy as social justice work; entrepreneurship in the food industry; the basics of business math; and general workforce readiness. Youth are matched up with community and OSU student mentors to expand professional networks toward future success. With indoor farms located at 3500 Refugee Rd, 996 Oakwood Avenue, 905 Mt. Vernon Avenue, and 1854 Parsons Avenue we can provide more opportunities for youth. Urban GEMS has already engaged 235 youth in 2016-2017. Our long term vision is to create a sustainable community-owned business on the south side of Columbus to employ 16-24 year olds in meaningful and living-wage work for the betterment of the community. Our capacity to spread the Urban GEMS program is only limited by resources.
We are training the next generation of scientists, mathematicians, accountants, entrepreneurs, culinary artists, and humanitarians. The benefits from Urban GEMS will be realized by many as gardening promotes healing, healthy eating promotes health, and positive youth development strategies promote academic excellence.