Kristin Kvernland (behind table)
  • Kristin Kvernland (behind table)
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After several years offering San Diego youth a chance at on-the-job skills development, the Second Chance Youth Garden has found a new home market for their student-grown produce in City Heights.

"We felt it was important to get the students' product out in the neighborhoods where they live," said program manager Kristin Kvernland, taking a moment to staff the produce stand at Fair @ 44, a new weekly City Heights open-air market at the corner of Fairmount Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard, while her youth charges were out posting flyers for the event nearby.

"We're a six-week job-readiness program for high-school-aged youth, say from age 14 to 24ish. For a lot of youth, it's a first-time job experience," Kvernland explained. "We're working with low-income and at-risk youth. Some of them have been incarcerated before, so we're trying to help them transition into an employment opportunity.

"It's all based in our urban-garden setting, so they're learning about everything from seeding to cultivating to weeding and harvesting. Then we sell our produce as a social enterprise to pay our students."

The program receives about 40 applicants for each six-week session, which has room for about 20 participants. While working, the students learn basic job skills, including showing up on time. Second Chance "job builders" also work with the teens to help them develop résumés and prepare for interviews.

Another benefit, Kvernland added, was increased engagement at school — Second Chance checks in on the students' performance, and since failing to complete assignments or attend class could mean getting bounced from the program and lost pay, she says many teachers have reported participants were motivated to work harder in the classroom.

"One thing I learned was how to manage my time more efficiently," offered Rafael, a junior at Hoover High who just completed the six-week program. "I'm able to get more done when I'm working, and I understand how important it is to show up on time and communicate with my bosses when I'm having trouble getting in because of school."

Rafael said that in addition to developing life skills, he'd enjoyed the chance to learn in an urban farm setting.

"I really liked the planting process, putting the seeds down and fertilizing them and then coming back a couple weeks later to see them germinate, then a couple weeks after that being able to see the plants that you've grown. We've been growing kale, broccoli, spinach, radishes, and lettuce."

Many of these items and others were on display at the group's booth, which they say they'll continue operating on a weekly basis Wednesday afternoons once the market returns from holiday in January.

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