Roots & Wings, Rockford IL

“We learn all kinds of things that will help us later in life

Angelic Organics Learning Center empowers people to create sustainable communities of soils, plants, animals and people through educational, creative and experiential programs. The Learning Center, a nonprofit organization, is the educational partner to Angelic Organics, a vibrant biodynamic community supported farm. In 2001, the organization launched Roots & Wings, a youth leadership development and urban agriculture program in Rockford, Illinois. It now works with a network of community partners to help urban residents and their community associations develop the skills, resources and leadership capacity to grow food and build local food systems. One major focus is on micro-enterprise, as a way to build self-sufficiency and teach life skills.

Roots & Wings gardens grow organic vegetables and motivate, educate and inspire youth and adults to be leaders and role models in their communities. Underserved and low-income youth work together to plan, plant, tend, harvest, cook, donate and sell vegetables from their gardens. In the garden, youth practice teamwork and learn to solve problems peacefully. Through art projects and community celebrations, others are welcomed to the garden so that youth can share what they are learning. Several times a year, youth visit Angelic Organics Learning Center, where they help in the fields, milk goats, collect eggs and learn about organic farming through hands-on experience.

Youth are encouraged to become leaders, with teens helping to teach younger kids about gardening and food. Experienced youth leaders have attended national and regional youth leadership and urban agriculture events, and are part of the Rooted in Community network.

“I’ve been involved in Roots & Wings since I was in fifth grade; I could choose between art or gardening at my community center, and the kids in the garden looked like they were having lots of fun. I saw right away that the youth leaders got to make decisions and go on field trips, and they seemed to be learning more, so I kept asking to join them even though I was younger. Roots & Wings is a good influence on kids – it gives them something positive to do, besides just running the streets. Kids learn how to grow their own food, and we’re starting a business where we’ll sell Full of Life worm castings and worm composting boxes to people in our community. I’ve been helping to sell our veggies at the farmers market for a few years, and now I get to teach new youth leaders about how to set up the booth, talk to customers, and make change.

“We learn all kinds of things that will help us later in life, like being organized, on time, respectful, and prepared, showing initiative, and not being afraid to speak up about what’s on our minds. I’ve helped with making the workplan and budget for our program; attended conferences; given presentations to big groups of adults; and taught workshops on worms and composting. I’m more confident now and I like to teach others about things I’ve learned in Roots & Wings. This helped me to feel like a leader at the Rooted in Community conferences, and to be more open about meeting new people and learning about other programs and cultures. I also got to be interviewed for a Green Living Project documentary about our work in Rockford; I was really nervous, but I’m glad I got to tell them about our program, the skills that we are learning, and how we’re helping our community.

“Roots & Wings has taught me what I need to eat so that I can be healthy. I had a problem with my hip and the doctor told me that kids can have problems like this if they’re not eating enough healthy foods when their bodies are growing. One of the older youth leaders also told me about how being active was an important part of being healthy, so I started getting more involved with sports through my community center. Now I play football at my high school, and I’ve learned about healthy foods that keep me from cramping up and help me be strong and fit for my team. I also help my little brother to be more active and to pick healthier foods.

“The one thing I’m most proud of so far is our work at Blackhawk Courts housing project. Two years ago we helped them to build four raised beds for their youth community center, and we’ve helped them take care of and expand their gardens. Now they have eight raised beds and a half-acre field where all the residents can come and pick food whenever they want. Our youth leader gardens are much bigger this year, too, and we have been selling at the farmers market almost every week, and donating food to neighbors and the food pantry. We are feeding a lot of people now! I wish that people who have a Link Card [food stamps] would have a certain amount on their cards that they’d be able to spend just on fresh fruit and veggies. It seems like a lot of people can’t afford to buy as much fresh food as they need, and that’s not fair.”
Kolten Luvert, Youth Leader, Roots & Wings

Roots & Wings, an Urban Initiative of Angelic Organics Learning Center
907 S. Main St.
Rockford, IL 61101