The Root Cause: GroundWorks Connect Impacts Youth in SD Communities

Jan 22, 2024

Garden beds
Agtegra strives to make a meaningful impact in our communities by partnering with organizations whose missions focus on food security, agriculture education and health and safety.

Founded in 2011, GroundWorks Connect brings agriculture and education together through three programs: South Dakota Ag in the Classroom, Teaching Gardens and YES! (Youth Eating Smart) Camps.

GroundWorks Connect originated from an experience co-founders Tim Olsen and Cindy Heidelberger had in 2011 when they worked with schools in impoverished communities through Sioux Falls Seminary. When only one parent showed up to a PTA meeting at the school they were working with, they knew something had to be done to drive community involvement.

“It all comes down to how we drive that community involvement,” says Cindy, who now serves as GroundWorks Connect’s executive director.

Realizing that people come together around a common cause, the idea of a community teaching garden at the school came to fruition, which gave birth to GroundWorks Connect. Soon after, more schools started asking how they could implement the gardens too.

Stemming from Teaching Gardens, GroundWorks’ YES! Camps aim to enhance what students learned from the gardens during the school year through an interactive summer camp. The camps bring in industry professionals to teach more about where food comes from and how kids can achieve a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

South Dakota Ag in the Classroom, formerly operating as its own entity, joined GroundWorks Connect’s programs five years ago. With the help of many collaborators and partners statewide, this program provides free agriculture-based curriculum to schools. When compared to the typical cost of books, this saves schools thousands of dollars in their curriculum update costs.

“We can link everything to agriculture in some way,” explains Cindy. “If we implemented activities such as separating bean varieties to demonstrate fractions, we can implement math, agriculture and science all in one lesson.”

GroundWorks Connect’s three programs currently reach a total of 19,000 students statewide. With 95% of the state’s school districts reached by the organization’s curriculum in some form, GroundWorks Connect is ensuring agricultural education is available to youth across the state.

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