Growing up on my family farm, harvest time was always a busy time and everything seemed to move at even a more feverish pace than the rest of the year. It was and remains my favorite time of the year. Gathering in the crops, canning, and preparing the buildings and animals for winter. Learning to connect the dots on the farm seemed to happen naturally. We were immersed in and engaged in “life”–from the gardens, to the fields, and from there to the table. Hard work = increased competencies and transferable knowledge. These experiences helped create strong neural pathways in our brains which helped us learn to think critically, pay attention to detail, to stay on task, and to persevere on difficult tasks, projects, or circumstances.
Today’s youth culture is based in media consumption. The most recent research indicates that youth ages 8-18 in the United States consume over fifty-five hours of screen time per week (Kaiser Family Foundation, January 2010–follow-up study of Dr. David Walsh’s study in 2004). The opportunity for brain stimulation outside of and away from screen time is nearly non-existent. Nature provides powerful sensory stimulation but it also helps teach young people extremely important social and life skills as well as fostering the development of conscientious, critically thinking, teens and young adults who want to make a difference in their communities. Can all that be accomplished just by providing kids opportunities to spend time in nature? Although those experiences certainly can provide important brain stimulation and profound experiences. DIRT GROUP utilizes the context of gardening, farming, and other experiential, creative and nature-based settings to teach important social and life skills to young people who are experiencing disruption in their lives due to deficits in these areas. Kids spend the majority of their waking hours at school. Everyone wants to belong, to fit in, to have friends. Many of the youth who participate in DIRT GROUP struggle to fit in due to difficulties in social functioning. DIRT GROUP supports participants in increasing their social competencies through experiential methods. Through instruction and experience, participants learn, practice, and master important social skills such as cooperating with others, taking turns, following instructions, dealing with frustration, delaying gratification, etc. These repeated experiences in the garden help to reinforce the skills being learned and are further reinforced as the plants begin to grow, blossom, and bear fruit. These experiences provide alternate stimulation and “hands on” tangible results in the form of fruits and vegetables and also in observations and experiences of increased social competencies.
DIRT GROUP gives participants an opportunity to experience social inclusion by being part of a safe, cohesive, structured group. DIRT GROUP participants feel pride and ownership in their collective efforts growing food together. DIRT GROUP participants make a difference in their communities by donating food they have grown to local food shelves and other such community organizations. This has a “big ripple effect” in supporting the development of a positive social identity, learning empathy, and creating a desire to invest in and make a difference in their communities. Harvest Time provides tangible results of demonstrated commitments and skills of perseverance and delaying gratification. The fruits and vegetables are ready and the excitement is in the air. Helping young people learn to connect the dots and experience all of these tangible results helps prepare them for life. Screen time doesn’t do that. Screen time stunts important brain development. DIRT GROUP provides participants an opportunity to “get back to the roots” of human development. DIRT GROUP provides opportunities for real achievement on many levels. Growing food, increasing social competencies, experiencing social inclusion, developing a strong social identity, increasing self-esteem through accomplishment, creating investment in the community, learning to make a difference…all of these are tangible results of DIRT GROUP.