YOUTH BLOOMING WITH BLUEBERRIES
P. Fletcher UF/IFAS Extension, Putnam County, East Palatka, FL, W.Lynch, UF/IFAS Extension, Putnam County, East Palatka, FL, C. McCazzio, UF/IFAS Extension, Putnam County, East Palatka, FL.
Situation: Putnam County has 44.3% of youth under the age of 18 living in poverty. All Putnam County schools (elementary, middle and high) qualify as Title I (economically disadvantaged) and all students receive free breakfast and lunch based on Putnam’s economic status. Youth who are low income may be at a higher risk for participating in risky behaviors. There is strong evidence that not only supports teaching at-risk youth essential life skills to reduce their risk in participating in risky behaviors, but also as a way to improve their overall personal and professional outcomes so they can become productive members in their community. Methods: Putnam County has traditionally provided youth an opportunity to explore entrepreneurship through exhibiting and selling livestock. To provide all youth an entrepreneurial opportunity, the Blueberry Project, a lower-cost project was developed to meet the financial constraints of families. Three workshops were held for eleven youth and taught blueberry basics from farm to fork: deciduous fruit production, growing containerized plants, marketing, and after harvest food preservation. Youth also had the opportunity to exhibit and sell their blueberry bush in the county fair. Results: 50% of the participants returned the post-then-pre evaluation. 58% of youth reported an increase their overall confidence in accomplishing tasks related to growing blueberries and food preservation. In addition to the evaluation, participating youth were awarded five blue ribbons, and one won the Best in Class in the Youth Division at the County Fair. Additional data regarding the blueberry bush sales will be available at the close of this year’s fair. Conclusion: The blueberry project was successful in providing low income youth an entrepreneurship opportunity while improving horticultural skills.