One County Program That Should Grow : School's Mini-Farm Helps Troubled Teens Learn the Value of Nurturing, Cooperation

It's not fields of waving corn as far as the eye can see, and it's not the life of a farmer with hundreds of acres, up at dawn with the rooster's crow and praying for good weather. But considering the circumstances, the mini-farm at the school attached to the Youth Guidance Center in Santa Ana is an accomplishment.

The school, Rio Contiguo, is for students who have gotten into trouble with the law. Some of the teen-agers are allowed to go home at night. Others remain incarcerated at the Youth Guidance Center around the clock because they are guilty of more serious crimes, though they have been spared the tougher life behind bars of the California Youth Authority.

For one period each week, a dozen or so youngsters, aged 15 to 18, are allowed to work in the school's garden. They grow corn, cucumbers and flowers; they plant, weed, mulch and build flower boxes.

The purpose is to teach the troubled youngsters how to get along with each other, manage their time and instill discipline in their lives. The adults who oversee the work say the lessons learned can help in the job market later.

It's a worthwhile idea, and reflects a good example of cooperation among government agencies and with private companies.

The County Probation Department, the Department of Education and the University of California Cooperative Extension 4-H program coordinate the farm. Volunteers help with the teaching. Lumber firms and commercial plant nurseries donate supplies.

One volunteer said the farm could work as therapy for those who are emotionally troubled. That's true, as anyone who works off frustrations in a back-yard garden at home can attest. Future plans include a greenhouse, fruit orchard and landscaping around the school.

The experiment began in June and has involved about 30 youngsters so far. It very much deserves success and a long life.

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