Hope, with a strong measure of hard work.
This morning the farm was covered with ice crystals, the summer's dry stalks of burdock and grasses shimmering. As the Sun rose higher and warmer, everything sparkled. We know that nature is healing and grounding, and we are thankful for the time on this land.
'At the Youth Farm Project we look at the farmland as the heart of our life changing programs. It is a real ‘reap what you sow’ situation in more than one respect, but one we take great care in tending and cultivating. While we primarily grow annual vegetables on a scale similar to that of an active vegetable farm, it gives us unique opportunities for education and job skills training. We feel that the success of our programs stems from the fact that the experiences we provide are relevant, offers the opportunity to form deep relationships, and is rigorous enough where one can tap into undiscovered inner strength. We are excited to look to the future and forming a farm plan that includes more perennials like fruit trees, berry bushes, perennial herbs and flowers, animals, bees, and someday, a year round facility where we can cook, learn, and be together in all times of the year.'
- Ann Piombino, Lead Farmer and Educator
In 2018 we started adding some exciting new elements to our farm-scape including raising baby lambs for one of our partnering farms, Black Pearl Creamery, and designing and installing a perennial herb garden. The lambs created a whole new experience, one that we have been looking forward to, for youth to interact with animals. We were able to watch the lambs grow, take responsibility for their chores, and learn a whole new set of skills around accountability as well as an endless supply of cuddles, laughs, and antics. The perennial herb garden has also added a dimension of depth and beauty to the farm this year and has supplied us with endless possibilities; teas to enjoy during our programs and share with our guests, flavor for our meals, a forage spot for pollinators, an herbal medicine chest, and a place to explore our senses.
Here's one account from a teen from our 2018 Summer Program:
“I personally have amazing experiences from the two summers I have worked on this farm. I have learned so much and not just about farming, but communication, tenacity, and leadership too. Ann, the farm manager, and all the other amazing people that work at the farm, have helped me grow as a person. Meeting new teens from around Ithaca is always interesting from the diversity of backgrounds from which the kids come. I have made two very good friends through working here who I likely never would have met otherwise, as well as a whole host of other people who I now know through the farm. I owe the Youth Farm and everyone who works so tirelessly every year to make it function, all the praise in the world for what they have done for my life, for making the Youth Farm Project a place where I feel at home.”
We welcomed Christa as the Fresh Snack Manager in September 2018.
We are lucky to have her - and if you are connected with a child in the Ithaca City School District, YOU ARE TOO! She is a fierce and caring advocate for children, for health, and for community, and she is making sure kids eat fresh, healthy food during their school day. Christa's bio--->
In Fall 2018 we served 3,364 snacks PER WEEK in local elementary schools! Due to a newly funded Tompkins County School Food Project, we are looking forwards to expanding the Fresh Snack program to more Tompkins County schools in 2019. Read more here-->
The AMAZING 2018 Summer Farm Crew
We are in deep gratitude to the strong, loving and joyful humans who worked the farm, modeled honest communication and meaningful work for young people and made it all happen this season.
Our amazing Summer Staff (top left to bottom right): Laura, our Farm and Food Justice Educator; Natalia, YFP alum and Assistant Farm Manager; Rose joined us for their 3rd season on Farm Crew; Julian, YFP alum and Summer Intern; Ann, Lead Farmer and Educator; Elizabeth, Youth Coordinator, Intern through the CU Food Systems Minor; and Penny, farm dog extraordinaire.
One summer program participant recounted what the strong mentorship meant to them:
"Working at Youth Farm Project this past summer was one of the most educational and rewarding experiences I have had in my 14 years of life. The strong women leaders on the farm really made me feel like I was capable and strong and I could do anything I wanted to."
Our wee lambs grew over the summer. Moving the lamb fencing and shepherding the flock to fresh grass every week was every crew's Favorite Chore!
We cooked with local chefs, brought dinner to Southside Community Center's Summer Camp, and made a delicious farm dinner for all of our parents. And of course we wouldn't be anywhere without pesto!
GIAC's Skate Camp came to lend a hand every Thursday morning. In the end of July they helped the Teen Summer Crew harvest that delicious YFP Garlic!
So much happens so fast... From garlic harvest to new friends. We worked together through all of it!!!
This last week was a chance for everyone to say goodbye and reflect on our summer together, finding hope in what we have experienced. Tuesday and Wednesday were especially fun.
On Tuesday, we had a dinner for our families. All day, we cooked. We made grilled corn and bok choy, salad and homemade salad dressing, tibs (a traditional Ethiopian beef and vegetable dish), thai stir fry with vegetables and chicken, pesto pasta, cucumber mint water, and currant soda. For dessert we prepared delicious zucchini chocolate chip muffins and shortcake with peaches and whipped cream. Each crew took on a dish or two, and cooked up a storm! Most of the ingredients were fresh from the farm, so the meal was grown, cooked, and eaten at the Youth Farm Project. Food tastes so much better when you have a hand in making it. The barn was decorated with fairy lights and flowers, and everyone went home to wait for dinnertime.
The time came, and we all came back with our families. First, there was a tour of the farm, during which each crew presented their field and crew members described what we had been doing in them all summer. Our parents finally got to see what we had been up to. Then, once everyone was hungry from the walk around the farm, we went back to the barn to eat. It was satisfying to share the culmination of all our efforts with friends and family.
On Wednesday, we had a tour of the Good Life Farm and drove down to Taughannock Park for a barbecue. The Good Life Farm is horse powered, and has two cute dogs, turkeys, fruit trees, grass fed beef, and greenhouses full of ginger. When we went on this tour last year, there was a cider house under construction. This year, the cider house is fully fledged and looks beautiful. At the end of the tour, we found doughnut peaches on the windshields of the cars. Yum! At Taughannock Park, Frank, head chef at North Star came down and grilled chicken and vegetables with us. We also made Panzanella, a dish with bread, tomatoes, basil, vinegar and oil. My favorite part of the day, though, was a barefoot soccer game on the grass.
Thursday was a regular workday. Friday, we worked in the fields in the morning and after lunch we filled out an evaluation reflecting on the summer. Finally, we ended the day with the tunnel of love. Two lines face each other, and create a tunnel by meeting hands in the middle. Then, people walk through one at a time and everyone says nice things about them.
It gives me hope to think of the long term effects of our activities this summer. Maybe some of the other young people will grow up and start local farms, inspired by the farms we visited over the summer. Maybe some of the young people will major in sustainable agriculture, inspired by what we learned about food deserts. Maybe some of the kids will spread the love that they felt in the tunnel of love. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The work we did this summer pushed that curve towards food justice, and I have hope that we will continue to head in that direction.
-Thea Clarkberg, 2015 Crew Leader
This week marked the beginning of a summer of new experiences for 25 teenagers who set out to find a job. Here at the Youth Farm Project they ended up with something different than they might have expected. From endless beds of weeding, to bagels with cilantro pesto, to running through the Tunnel of Love, a summer at the Youth Farm is an experience you won’t find anywhere else.
This summer was my first time leading a crew, bringing me more challenges and rewards than my summer here last year. In this first week I watched everyone meet the farm and learn about what their next seven weeks would look like. Monday and Tuesday were crew leader training days. The other crew leaders and I refreshed our bean planting and carrot weeding skills, and we discussed the responsibilities and goals involved in leading a crew. I learned a lot of new things about the workings of the farm during these two days that had been mysteries to me last summer. Being a crew leader comes with a lot of responsibility, but it also is a lot of fun; sometimes you get to be in on what game you’re about to play, when it’s a big secret to everyone else.
On Wednesday all the young people arrived for their first day. Wednesday and Thursday were orientation days, we gave a tour of the farm, met the chickens, discussed work expectations, and played a bunch of name games. One of the biggest surprises, in my opinion, of working on the Youth Farm is all the game playing we do. Games are one of my favorite parts of the work day, something I don’t think most people can say about their job. Another surprise of the Youth Farm is how quickly you can get to know your co-workers. For me meeting people on the farm is different from meeting people at school or another job; I think it’s easier to connect with people when you have to work together to untangle the “human knot”, or to pound a field of tomato-trellising stakes into the ground. In addition to games and orientation on the first two days, everyone was also introduced to farm work, we jumped right in to weeding all of the garlic so it would soon be ready for a big harvest.
Week one was a busy start to a busy summer, and I think all of us can say we learned something new.
-Corrine Hill-James, 2015 Crew Leader
This Spring, Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, an environmental journalist, approached the YFP staff with the idea to produce a more-detailed article for the Youth Farm Project. You can read the article in Green Teacher, a publication that promotes sustainability education. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
- "Crew leaders gain leadership skills by being responsible for the physical and emotional safety of their crew. As a part of this, they model positive communication. Rayna Joyce and Noa Wesley, both of whom have been involved in YFP since the beginning, say YFP encourages “Straight Talk,” a process developed by The Food Project (a non-profit in Boston that hires teens with the goal of creating personal and social change through sustainable agriculture). Straight Talk is communicating honestly about how you are feeling, making eye contact, listening, and learning how to receive feedback. Crew members frame comments into positives (“When we were trellising tomatoes and I needed extra twine, and you jumped and got it”) and deltas, or attributes that could be changed (“While we were weeding carrots this afternoon, you seemed to lack energy when we really needed you. It would be awesome for our crew if you could...”). Wesley, now a student at Cornell University, says, “We’re never really taught interpersonal communication anywhere in our system. That piece is a large part of what we do...and adds another level of depth.”"
- “My best day of being a teacher,” says Flerlage, “using activities, writings, whatever else I could think of, doesn’t hold a candle to a bunch of folks working with common purpose in a field. You’re totally together, and differences dissipate.”
-"But in the same breath, Flerlage waxes philosophical: “The tendency to underestimate young people is profound. A high percentage of the kids sent to us would have a hard time elsewhere. The Farm is the antithesis of one-size-fits-all. Part of it is the staff and a culture that values things broadly and provides experiences that allow people to shine.”"
Beginning a new year always holds a sense of transition, in our personal lives and in the work that each of us pours into the Youth Farm. This year in particular I am feeling both fear and excitement for this upcoming change and movement forward, an upheaval that I have never experienced before. It is my senior year of high school, and as I lean into this time of decision making and planning for my future, the years I have spent at the Youth Farm are holding me up, much like the way we lovingly wrap our tomato plants with twine, gently reminding them to keep growing upwards. I couldn’t be more excited, as I plan a gap year of traveling with some of my favorite people on this planet, and make a decision about where I will attend college. My future is filled with some amazing opportunities, and not surprisingly many of them are inspired by my work at the Youth Farm Project. But this excitement is also incredibly bitter sweet, as I begin to think about moving forward, ultimately parting ways with family, friends and this beautiful farm, at least for a little while.
Winter on the farm seems to mirror this same transition, as all of us at the farm reflect on the past year and look towards the future. The past five years at the Youth Farm Project have been full of excitement, energy and positive movement forward. Now in this time of beautiful quiet and peace on the farm, we gather with a sense of potential and purpose, to envision how we can continue our supported evolution, expansion and growth upwards.
It is with joy that I can share with you plans for the construction of our very own mobile farmers market! The designing and building of this project will be the way in which I demonstrate my readiness to graduate from the Lehman Alternative Community School, where I have attended school since 6th grade. The farm has inspired me to think deeply about my place in the world, what space I want to fill and how my passions and aspirations intersect. This planet is a complex place on which to grow, and I am constantly realizing the ways in which my interest in agriculture, sustainability and social justice connect. It feels fitting to me to embark on this project, which may seem simple at first glance, but actually represents something complex, that contains layers of growth for myself and for the farm.
Right now I am in the beginning stages of designing a mobile market stand that will be built using a flat bed trailer, which can be hitched to a car or truck. As the Youth Farm gets older, we have begun to think more about marketing strategies, by creating value added products, and attending various farmers markets. Having a mobile market stand will allow us to travel more freely around the community, and give youth working at the farm more opportunity to gain experience interacting with consumers. In addition, it will offer us the potential to address needs in our community, by reaching areas that have less access to affordable, local, organic produce. Food justice is a concept that was introduced to me during my first summer of work at the Youth Farm. To me the concept represents a complex intersection of issues, which leads to unequal opportunity in the ability to afford healthy food. Because it is a complex issue, solutions are also complex, and I feel clear that simply bring food into a community that “needs it” is not a sufficient solution. That is a solution that ignores complexity, and takes us away from the root cause of such injustice. Having this mobile market will allow the Youth Farm to eventually expand our work towards food justice, through conversation, and connection with community leaders. It is our hope to re-envision and add to our year round program, providing youth with a an opportunity to focus on social justice, community organizing and activism during the winter months. Creating change takes time, which is why we continue to reflect and move forward.
This mobile market will be under construction this summer by a team of young women, led by Maria Klemperer-Johnson at Hammerstone Carpentry School for Women. The goal of working with Hammerstone is to empower myself and other young women, a demographic that is not often found in carpentry or construction. In the mean time I am busy creating designs, writing grants, and planning fund raisers.
I am filled with gratitude and hope. Times of transition are challenging for us all, but it is my wish that by reading this you will feel the same energy and excitement that I feel. Stay tuned, things are moving in wildly positive directions.
-Rayna Joyce (LACS Senior & YFP Crew Leader)
P.S. Check out our Get Involved section for more information on this project, and a registration form for the Hammerstone class!
This article appeared in the 8/21 Ithaca Journal Paper, titled "Youth Farm Project teaches students to grow." "This summer about 22 Ithaca area high school students worked on the farm, growing onions, kale, collards, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, winter squash, turnips and more".
A summer farming program has high school students planting, picking, eating and earning green.
The Youth Farm Project started five years ago as a collaboration between Three Swallows Farm, the Full Plate Farm Collective CSA, Lehman Alternative Community School and the Southside Community Center. Students are paid through local youth employment agencies to work on a 3.5-acre organic vegetable farm on Nelson Road, and the food they grow and harvest makes its way into Ithaca city school lunch and snack programs.
This summer, about 22 high school students worked on the farm, which sits on land adjacent to the Ithaca Waldorf School. The farm hosts a diverse slate of crops; onions, kale, collards, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, winter squash, turnips and more.
Students work 20 hours a week and in the process they learn farming, cooking and teamwork skills while also developing a deeper awareness of sustainability and food justice issues, according to Joseph Amsili, who is a coordinator of the summer program and co-manages the farm with Ann Piombino.
"Some kids come with a lot of gardening experience from home, but for a lot of kids it's completely new to them. So we teach kids how to learn to work hard and use their bodies. We show them they can be powerful and create something pretty meaningful," Amsili said. "One big part of our program is that we depend on having five or six kids returning from previous years that can be role models and leaders for the people who have just arrived on the farm."
The food the students harvest is used in lunch programs in the Ithaca City School District, New Roots Charter School, the Full Plate Farm Collective CSA's u-pick garden, plus initiatives such as Beverly J. Martin Elementary School's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, GIAC's Market Box and Hot Meals programs, the Congo Square Market at Southside Community Center, and at a number of local food establishments.
The Youth Farm Project, which is supported by funding from the Park Foundation as well as local businesses and individuals, is an offshoot of the not-for-profit Social Ventures, Inc.
This was the second summer that Zoe Larson, 17, of Newfield, worked at the farm. The New Roots student said she was initially drawn to the program because she wanted to find a job that would keep her in shape over the summer.
"I found that. It definitely keeps us in shape," Larson said. "It's a great environment and the people are awesome, and it's work that you can be proud of."
Larson is serving as a crew leader with the program. She's long had an interest in how food is grown and the ways that society has become detached from that process, and she appreciates the boomerang effect of growing the same food that she and her peers consume at school.
"My school gets some of the food and I can always tell," she said. "The potatoes are extra sweet, the lettuce is extra crispy. It's really cool."
In addition to the summer program, the youth farm project also employs a handful of students during the school year. Larson hopes she can continue to work for the program several days a week, most likely storing food as well as prepping and canning jam, if her schedule allows it. Either way, she plans on returning to the farm for next summer before she ages out of the program, which hires teens between 14 and 18 years old.
"Every single person that's come to the farm so far, even if they've been really skeptical about it, the people that I've seen have all absolutely loved it," Larson said. "They can be from totally different backgrounds...The group of people all work together so well in the environment. It's awesome."
The seven-week summer program officially ended last week but there are still about about eight youths working on the farm, Amsili said.
"Growing food is such a powerful teaching tool so far as empowering young people to see (the process) from a seed to a big plant to something that you're harvesting to something you're maybe selling at a farmers market or maybe seeing in your school lunch," Amsili said. "I think there's a lot of power in being able to see that we're all able to make that happen."
Thanks to David Nutt and Simon Wheeler for a great article.
Link to digital article:
The last official week of work with the youth farm was very productive and it was sad to know we were nearing the end of the summer program. A part of our farming experience was to go through the process of chicken slaughtering from a non-conventional humane approach. For me I was a little hesitant at first since I don't eat meat, however I feel it is a highly important process to go through. Eating meat that is from animals that have been raised and killed with care and respect is a much better way to eat meat than eating meat from animals that had to live a conventional life in a factory where for their whole life they never even get held by human hands. We enjoyed the chicken at our Taughannock park picnic among other meals we made with the food we've grown. The picnic was delicious, we laughed a lot and had great conversations.
We ended the week with a trip to what was one of my favorite farms the Good Life Farm which is an organic farm raising cows, turkey, chickens, guinea hens, and rehabilitating previously mistreated horses and using them for work like plowing fields. The Good Life farm is also growing vegetables and making and selling cider. In the last week we also played group games like tunnel of love which let us share our appreciation for each other and level the playing field which showed the diversity in our group and even with our differences we could still work efficiently together and create friendships.
Working at the youth farm was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had and an unbelievable first job. I learned so much, grew more confident and made more friends. The people I've worked with are so kind, passionate about their work and treat you like an adult which is very refreshing for me. I hope to work another summer on the farm!
Written by Lilly, Summer 2014 YFP crew member.
Images: 1st- Lilly observes Rafael Aponte as he teaches us how to kill a chicken quickly and respectfully.
This was an eventful week as we prepared for our annual community dinner! On Monday all crews were assigned to organize, harvest, weed, and make other various decisions involving their respective fields in order to present these fields and to show families all the hard work that went into their cultivation. Both Monday and Tuesday my crew (the Thunderberrys) worked strenuously, planting row after row of kale in Field Four. Despite the blaring sun and heavy humidity, we persevered through this task, listening to music, talking, laughing, and having an overall surprisingly good time. It’s in moments like these that I remind myself how meaningful this work is. I’m sure that come fall, I will see the kale that we planted on my plate as a part of my school lunch and that the broccoli and cabbage also growing in field four, will be distributed throughout the community ending up at places like the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program at BJM. I am grateful to know that the work I am doing on the farm is helping so many people.
On Wednesday, we met at LACS and began the morning with an educational game led by Jeff Beem-Miller, who is a staff member in a lab at Cornell that focuses on the effects of climate change on agriculture. In the game, Cropopoly, each crew was assigned to a hypothetical farm in the future where extreme weather events have become more common and the government is both incentivizing and taxing agricultural activities that either mitigate man-made climate change or promote it. The crews had to make numerous decisions involving what to plant, how many fields to cultivate, how many kilograms of nitrogen fertilizer to add to crops, and how to invest money on the farm. The goal of the game was to make the most amount of money in a given amount of time. It was obviously evident that the crews planting only the typical industrial crops of corn and soybeans, made the most amount of money for the theoretical five years of farming. The crews that attempted to abide by more sustainable practices and plant more environmentally friendly crops ended up making a significantly less amount money. The point of this activity was to get us thinking about the various economic, ecological, and cultural trade-offs that farmers make and thinking how a climate change lens may influence these choices. In the short term, it is easier for farmers to profit more from solely corn and soybeans. While in the long term, a farmer who plants the same two crops over and over again will deplete soils of their organic matter, rely on external inputs: fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, which are costly, contribute to climate change, and overall create an agricultural system that is not resilient to climate change. In the long run, sustainable agriculture is more beneficial not only economically, but also environmentally, because soils will remain healthy year after year as a result of not being subjected to monoculture, intensive disturbance, pesticides/herbicides and the farmer will gradually gain a greater profit because they have reduced their need on off-farm inputs. After the fun
On Thursday, all crews worked hard to prepare specific meals for that night’s dinner. My crew made pesto, a lot of pesto, using 6 pounds of freshly harvested basil from the farm. We ended up making a delicious pasta dish that seemed to be a big hit among the pesto lovers. Thursday’s dinner was an enjoyable success. It was fantastic seeing how well all the crews presented their fields and the meal was delicious. It is wonderful to see how food can foster connection, not only between people, but also between people and the environment. I am so grateful to be apart of the Youth Farm community.
Written by Adrienne Wooster, 2014 Crew Leader
Photo above: Adrienne presents field #4 with her crew members at the family dinner.
Boy time flies. Today while we were putting the plastic on the new hoop house, we reminisced about planting it during the first week of July and how it seemed like ages ago. On Monday, half the crew met downtown to help out at Loaves and Fishes (see Raffi’s section), while the other half went to Kestral Perch to glean currants. We gleaned and froze over 20 gallons of currants from Kestral Perch that we will access during the winter months to make our raspberry-currant-jalapeno jam. This is the fourth year that Katie Creeger has hosted us to glean berries at her beautiful berry farm. Thanks Katie.
Raffi recounts his experience at Loaves and Fishes that Friday (the half of the group, went to Loaves and Fishes on Friday):
Volunteering at Loaves and Fishes this year was a great experience. After the two crews moseyed into Loaves, we started work. The crew of volunteers that were in charge of running Loaves, were like a well oiled machine. We started out by bagging up bread for people to take home and setting all the tables. After a little break for breakfast, Simon dropped off two cases of kale and told us that the plan for the day was to make some sort of messaged kale salad for the lunch. Since this was my first year as a crew leader and most of the crew wasn’t exactly sure what a messaged kale salad was, I was taken a little off guard to say the least. Luckily my co-crew leader, Zofia, was a connoisseur of kale salads, so she led us to meet the challenge. Surprisingly in the end, without any help from adults, we were able to come together with a nice kale salad. Then Loaves opened its doors for lunch and although I spent the majority of time in the kitchen washing dishes, I enjoyed watching Youth Farmers eating and mingling with folks eating lunch. It was cool to come down to Loaves and Fishes as a crew and bring vegetables that we had helped grow. I would recommend volunteering at Loaves and Fishes for anybody that enjoys sharing a good meal with community.
In addition, to visiting two awesome community partners, we spent time with Emma Frisch at the farm, who helped a group of youth make some delicious snacks for us all to enjoy after we were hard at work in the fields. Check out a beautiful blog post full of pictures and recipes that Emma Frisch wrote after her visit. http://www.emmafrisch.com/2014/08/summer-squash-pasta-with-chard-mint-pesto.html. To top it all off, we learned about cover crops together. Using cover crop fact sheets, youth were able to predict what cover crops would be useful for various realistic on-farm scenarios that Rafa and I detailed. Afterwards, we explored the cover crops of the farm: a tall field of cereal rye, mowed pathways of annual rye grass, and a dense field of red clover, half of which was plowed under to fertilize field #4 filled with fall brassicas. Finally, we all took turns hand broadcasting annual rye grass in the pathways of field #4 and buckwheat around the potatoes.
This week we accomplished a lot on the farm: We seeded beets, radishes, transplanted fall crops, trellised hoop house tomatoes, put plastic on our new hoop house, and mowed and weeded. And most importantly we enjoyed each others company while doing it!
By the Amsili Bros: Raffi and Joseph
PS: Loved sharing my time at the Youth Farm this summer with my bro!