Firmly Planted

Integrating the urban jungle with the natural world to create a green lifestyle

Imagine the Mobius strip, a rectangular form where one end has been twisted and attached to the other. If you were to place a pencil anywhere on this strip and began drawing a line, you will have traveled both sides of the object without ever lifting the pencil.

As this writer has a penchant for many things sci-fi, mathematics and vegetarian, it’s best to understand how Green Youth Collective (GYC) operates through a visual representation.

In an abstract and most simplistic (possibly offensive) concept, the Mobius strip can be seen as a plane with infinite beginnings and endings. The GYC mission is to provide vocational training to disadvantaged youths in organic gardening and urban landscape design following modern and sustainable practices – serving as the plane of the Mobius strip.

“Poor kids get recycled to poor adults,” says cofounder Leslie Werner. “Vocational training here is to become a better maid or waitress.” Leslie, who also runs Smile Group, an organization for families affected by HIV/AIDS, hopes to attract youths despite the stigma of a profession typically reserved for the poor and uneducated.

“This is different from traditional farming as we are integrating science with craft,” says Thanh Nguyen, another co-founder and marketing/ operations manager. “We are mixing tradition and modern technology together.”


Set in District 9, GYC operates on 6,000 square meters of land along the Dong Nai River where the center will hold classes on products and services. The intended market comprises of foreign families, middle to upper class Vietnamese households, commercial businesses and the hospitality industry wanting to utilize unoccupied wall, roof, patio or balcony space, in addition to maintenance services.

There are currently two recruits: cousins Le Huynh Thanh Quy, 18, and Huynh Le Kim Ngan, 15. Both are Smile Group alumni having lost both their parents to AIDS. The program does not begin until next June but Quy and Ngan attend various GYC events and help build the center on the weekends.

“Planting helps us reduce stress and is good for the environment,” says Ngan through translator and co-founder/beneficiary manager Duoc Nguyen. She sits next to Quy in their grandmother’s home. There are three younger orphaned relatives living with them, and as the eldest, they are expected to provide for the family. Until the program begins, Ngan will finish her public school education while Quy continues night school for older teens.

The program is geared for youths between the age of 18 and 30. GYC is in the process of obtaining more teachers for their program, developing its curriculum, and partnering with more businesses and mentors for training experience and future employment.

Seeds of Life
Funding for GYC projects comes in various forms, including a grant from hotel group Accor and design projects contracted with local firms. Novotel will use GYC trainees to service their potted plants and Rice Creative, a design agency, hired GYC to design their rooftop patio. WORK, a co-working space and creativity school in District 3, contracted GYC to design its organic garden supplying the on-site cafe. The collective has since examined the soil and the surrounding area to sketch an optimal array of vegetation organic to that terrain.

Part of the GYC is also the product portion. GYC manufactures GRO-POD organic boxes, a square container for clients interested in growing their own produce. The collective recently installed GRO-PODs at Anh Linh School. “We want to maximize growth – most amount of vegetation in the least amount of space,” says Tanya Meftah, co-founder and managing director.

Back at the farm, permaculture specialist Steven Wiig instructs trainees in water catchment and irrigation techniques and developing organic produce with a particular interest on seed cultivation and seed saving. Steven explains that he focuses on cultivating “an organic seed bank, hoping to create a collection of these ‘seeds of life’ from neighboring countries and locally when possible.”

Any given point inhabited on the topological space of the GYC can represent a trainee, partner, client, volunteer or supporter, proving that no matter what skill or service you contribute, you are ultimately realizing one larger existence of a sustainable future.

Images by Adam Robert Young

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