Our Story: “Off the Block”
When Will and Becky Green founded Mentoring Positives in 2004 as a way to serve at-risk Dane County youth, they didn’t have urban agriculture in mind as a means of accomplishing that goal.
But an east-side Madison gardening project has become a big part of the Greens’ mentoring program. For six summers, program participants nurtured an acre of tomatoes and peppers to produce a large quantity of salsa to sell to help support the program.
The youth involved branded the product “Off the Block” salsa, because they saw the project as a way to keep them out of trouble in their neighborhood. The name also represented their hopes of getting “off their block” in the Darbo-Worthington Park Neighborhood on Madison’s east side.
“What we talk about with our minority kids is you catch them hanging on the block, in the neighborhood, whether it’s selling drugs, just hanging out — you never know what’s happening on the block,” Will Green said. “They see this as an opportunity to get themselves off the block.”
The salsa project developed into more than just an after-school project for the young people who tend the garden and produce the product.
“It really changed the boys,” Green said. “They have this pride about having their own land. We call it the edible acre.”
Since the program first started, the participants that were once boys have now become young men with families and responsibilities of their own. Due to the increasing demand of the product, OTB has recently begun to outsource the growth and production of the salsa. Mentoring Positives is still heavily involved with the marketing and sales of the product.