LSU Agricultural Center Botanic Gardens at Burden recently hosted a hands-on summer program to teach a group of north Baton Rouge students about growing and marketing vegetables.

In addition to learning about the ins and outs of gardening, the students picked up some spending money thanks to East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden and the LSU AgCenter.

The students, who are participating in the Mayor’s Love Your Community Summer Youth Employment Program, learned about marketing fresh vegetables, said LSU AgCenter gardening specialist Kiki Fontenot.

“We have been hosting these groups for the past two weeks,” Fontenot said. “Today, they are picking tomatoes, and they will help us collect data on them. They will also learn to grade them for market.”

Holden said the program gives youth ages 14 to 17 the opportunity to earn income while “completing work that benefits themselves, the environment and the community,” Holden said.

“This experience will provide them with opportunities that set the foundation for future employment and academic success.”

Clint Berry, team coordinator for the group, said the program brings students from different parts of Baton Rouge together and exposes them to different community activities.

The Love Our Community initiative is in its second year. In addition to trips to the Botanic Gardens, the youths spent the first two weeks of the program painting murals around the city.

“We also show them how to paint on other objects, like T-shirts and tennis shoes,” Berry said. “So pretty much whatever they get their hands on becomes a canvas.”

The students are paid minimum wage for the four weeks, he said. At the end of the program, the 120 students are required to write a report detailing their experience.

Malaya Doucet, a freshman at St. Joseph’s Academy, said her mother signed her up for the program.

“We’re learning to paint and we’re learning about partnership, leadership and we’re getting lots of hands-on experience,” she said.

The students harvested peaches, tomatoes and peppers.

“We appreciate the help they provide in helping with the harvest,” Fontenot said. “We don’t need the produce, but we do need the data. So they help us, and we give them what they pick, plus they gain the experience of learning how to grade out fruit and vegetables for the market.”

Once they finish collecting the data, the students will take the produce to LSU AgCenter instructor Judith Myhand in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, where she will show them how to cook the produce.