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“Rooted in Culture” program offers middle school students a chance to explore agriculture and sustainability


A new summer program focused on middle school students who are interested in learning more about the land and its history will take place at Troy Farm on Madison’s north side in July. “Rooted in Culture” is an 8-week immersion program where students will have the opportunity to work with food, plants and animals as they learn about agriculture and sustainability.

The program is hosted by Rooted, a local non-profit committed to collaborations rooted in food, land, and learning, enabling people to grow and thrive in healthy, equitable, and sustainable neighborhoods and Dear Diary Mentoring Program, a program designed to provide support, advice, and love to high school girls, primarily girls of color through mentoring services.

“We are excited to have Rooted in Culture this summer. We are fortunate to have Yanna Williams as our partner in the program and the rich experience she brings the food systems scene,” Hedi Rudd, deputy director of South Madison programs, tells Madison365. “We hope to help young people explore their own relationships with the land and help them to see the possibilities that exist by visiting farms and hearing from people who look like them that work in the food systems field.”

Yanna Williams (left) talks with students.

Williams is the founder of Dear Diary Mentoring Program and the creator of the course.

“The way that I’ve built this program out is that I really want it to be an opportunity for us to work with middle school youth to dismantle any oppressive food systems by allowing them to feel empowered and a sense of ownership and responsibility back to the land,” Williams tells Madison365. “We’ll go through everything from learning how to grow your own food to addressing racial food disparities, understanding how food policy and process work … also understanding what we should be eating … what does eating healthy look like and what does that mean. 

“Especially for some of our students of color where culturally the eating habits are very different, and those eating habits contribute to a lot of those health disparities, as well,” she adds. “We’re really going to take youths through that entire food journey so they can really understand how things are and why things are that way.”

(photo by Hedi Rudd)

Students will have the opportunity to work with food, plants and animals at the Troy Farm location on Madison’s north side. 

“We’ll answer questions like: How do you plant something? What type of soil do you need? Why is fertilizer important? What kind of fertilizer is important? How do we overcome pests?” Williams says.

“We’ll learn about dairy and understanding milk and different types of milk and milk processes. What is almond milk? We’ll help youth understand that and learning the benefits and understanding the pros and cons of both,” she continues. “We’ll also learn about sustainability and global impact.”

In college, Williams remembers spending time in Costa Rica where she was supposed to be helping farmers be more sustainable.

“But when I got there, the things I learned in America do not apply over here at all. They won’t have 2,000-cow dairy. The infrastructure there will not allow that to happen,” she says. “So for me, it was a great learning opportunity to understand that what we consider normal, is not everybody’s normal … but they are still able to get the things that they need and export the things that we need even though their infrastructure is different.

“Taking youth through that process, as well, of understanding the differences between the food systems here and the food systems in other countries will be part of the course,” she adds. “We will talk through that and do some projects around that also.”

Beyond being educational and fun, Williams wants young people to know that working with the earth and growing different things can be very therapeutic.  

“People actually use agriculture and gardening as a form of meditation and mindfulness. There is definitely healing components to be involved in agriculture,” she says.

And you don’t have to be on a big farm to do it.

“This is something you can do in your house. Sometimes people think that if they are doing any type of gardening that they need acres of land. You really don’t,” Williams says. “You can start with a plant in front of a window or in front of your house or your backyard. We’re just getting our kids to understand that there is not just this invisible box that our food pops up in and they put it on the shelf. I don’t think that they understand that when they go to the store before you get to that shelf, here are all of the things it takes to get there. 

“I want our kids to learn about this whole process,” she continues. “So far, that hasn’t been the experience of a lot of our kids because they are not getting an opportunity to explore agriculture in the way that agriculture really encompasses everything that we’re doing and everything that we are.”

The goal is to start the “Rooted in Culture” program around July 6. It will take place Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday at Troy Farm on Madison’s north side for eight weeks.

“We want to have at least 10 middle school students in each cohort. We’ll have a morning cohort that will be from 9 a.m.-noon and an afternoon cohort from 1-4 p.m. We wanted to make sure that any students in summer school still have access to programming so we had two classes.”


For more information about the Rooted in Culture program, click here.