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What's on your MNyou?

I know what you’re thinking: “wait a minute. That’s not how you spell menu, right?”

MNyou, pronounced menu, is a group of young leaders from the Willmar region whose focus is on community health and local food. Yes, the name MNyou is a clever play on the state we live in but our main objective was giving power to the word “you”. We asked ourselves two initial questions: what does your household menu include? What might make your menu even better? Then we took it a step further and started thinking about how other people in our community might answer those questions. The answers we came up with are now the driving force behind our new program: MNyou Youth Gardens.

The MNyou Youth Garden is a plot of land and greenhouse, provided by the Minnesota West Technical Campus in Willmar, MN, that grows exotic fruits and vegetables not commonly found in Minnesota. Those fruits and vegetables are then to be sold at farmer's markets and to businesses that would otherwise import those goods. With this overall goal in mind, the idea is to have underrepresented youth, ages 15 to 24, research how to grow and maintain highly sought after vegetables then put that research to work. During their time in the project, the youth will develop entrepreneurial skills from working closely with mentors in local businesses on how to sell and market their products. They will also learn transferable job skills from experienced volunteers while receiving a minimum wage. The MNyou Youth Garden will not only benefit those involved in the project itself but will benefit the entire Willmar community. Providing youth with applicable education and skills will make the minority youth population more employable and better overall citizens. The project also aims to develop more diverse leaders for the community while promoting locally grown goods.

The Willmar community has become a very diverse community. Its growing population is made up of many different backgrounds including Somali, Karen, and Latino. While the overall community tends to be accepting, there is a very clear under-representation of these populations as leaders in local government, schools, and businesses. The goal of the MNyou Youth Garden is to take one of those areas, local business, and create opportunities for youth to develop as business people. The MNyou Youth Garden project aims to break down the barriers to employment that minority youth face (language, work history, transportation, etc.) and give them work experience regardless of their history while also addressing the food needs of the community as a whole.

Want to learn more? Like us on Facebook! Search for MNyou Youth Garden or click here.

About the authors:

Nate Erickson graduated from Saint John's University with a Bachelor's Degree in Communications. He is the Getting Ahead Program Manager at The Salvation Army in Willmar. 

Ben Larson is finishing up his Bachelor's Degree in Social Work from Bemidji State University. He is currently employed by the State of Minnesota.


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“We are proud to be part of the Vision 2040 effort here at the community foundation because it aligns with our core mission to engage people, connect resources and build community. It was an easy choice to invest not only financial resources to support Vision 2040 but also to lend significat board and staff time to help drive this effort forward. It's transforming our communities for the future our residents dream about-using their ideas and energies to make good things happen organically in real time and for years to come-and we want to be part of making that possible!”

Sara Carlson, Willmar Area Community Foundation

I made connections with community members and found many common visions.  I have begun to get more active in the community due to the connections.

Alumni, Class of 2016

I am excited to make a difference and feel confident to do so!

Alumni, Inaugural Class of 2015
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