Gary Comer Youth Center’s Producing Pathways programs equip young people from middle school to post-high school to succeed in STEAM careers while improving sustainability and food security on Chicago's South Side.
Producing Pathways consists of three programs: Green Explorers (middle school), Green Teens (high school), and Comer Crops (post-high school). The programs take place in the CEC network of gardens, including a 1.75-acre urban farm that includes an apiary, two hoophouses, and produces more than 12,000 pounds of food annually, an award-winning rooftop garden, and the CEC campus gardens.
Participants will also gain work-readiness skills through a recent expansion into the fast-growing field of hydroponics. The hydroponics program will add another track to the Pathways program and increase food access through the winter months. Youth will also incorporate hydroponically grown produce into GCYC’s daily meals.
In the Green Explorers program, middle schoolers are introduced to urban agriculture pathways on the Comer Education Campus, starting with hands-on, science-based activities.
Green Teens is a year-round program for youth to learn about urban agriculture and green careers. Through hands-on, project-based activities, high schoolers build essential skills that can be applied to improve local food systems, raise awareness of healthy lifestyles, and prepare for post-secondary opportunities. The youth also participate in programs provided by FFA and MANRRS, broadening their access to national STEM opportunities.
The Comer Crops internships provide young adults ages 18–24 with an immersive experience in community food systems, food sovereignty work, and other fields related to urban agriculture. Through this work, interns forge a deeper connection to the earth and develop greater agency to advocate for their local environments. Participants are out of high school and are pursuing post-secondary opportunities, including offsite internships and job placements through program partners. Members of the Comer Crops internship have the opportunity to build upon their experience and practice valuable and marketable leadership skills and responsibilities to advance from a crew member to a crew leader and on to post-secondary success.
GCYC’s culinary arts programs are woven into the pathways. Youth learn how to grow food, prepare, enjoy and share their dishes with family, friends, and the community. Products are also sold at GCYC’s Farmers Markets.
Led by the Comer Crops interns, participants learn beekeeping skills to maintain GCYC’s 14 hives and to harvest, bottle and sell about 400 pounds of honey in 2021. Graduates of the program are working in the beekeeping field in Chicago.
Youth and young adults participate in entrepreneurial projects, including weekly onsite Farmers Markets, selling honey and other value-added products derived from the GCYC farm-to-fork programs. Other social enterprises are in the works are to develop products and services that are not readily available on the South Side of Chicago, including soil testing and composting.
Youth develop and lead efforts to donate thousands of pounds of produce to local food pantries and social service agencies in order to further support our community.
This stellar video was produced by alumna Kiana Kali. Kiana was a Comer Crops Crew member and our social media intern. She is currently studying music at Columbia College Chicago.