This article appeared in the Ithaca Journal on September 28th and was written by Majorie Olds. I changed a few details to correct some minor inaccuracies.
"...While at Guilford, Simon remembered how he liked to eat all kinds of unhealthy food as a teen, and how some of his habits were not good for him. During his years at LACS, he got to know adults and kids who talked about getting healthier fruits and vegetables into the schools. From his LACS friends, he learned healthier personal habits; teens find it smoothest to learn from each other. He started asking himself, “Who grew this food? Where did it come from?” He saw the connection between food (growing healthy food in healthy soils), and justice (grown by people treated fairly). Everyone needs and deserves access to healthy food. Everyone who provides food deserves healthy, fair work conditions.
When Simon came back from his first year at college, he met four dynamic people who were starting a youth farm: Dan Flerlage, a LACS science teacher; Katie Church, of the Full Plate Community Supported Agriculture (CSA); Kirtrina Baxter, at the time the assistant director of the Southside Community Center; and Anna Piombino, a farm manager.The four founders brainstormed about high school kids growing food while learning about the complete food cycle and how everyone is affected by the food system we have. The first year, as the founders tried to bring their ideas to life, the Youth Farm Project was small and slow to flourish. Simon volunteered consistently that first summer. Mostly, he remembers the waist-high weeds, the heat and the lush potential of the farm project. Simon graduated from Guilford College, and he returned to the Youth Farm. The intersection of teens and farming appealed to Simon when he first encountered the Youth Farm project. Now, four years later, it seems like an even better choice. A lot has happened in the last four years.
Simon recounts some of its many successes:
“This summer, 20 high school students ran the farm with adult support. The teens really got into the YFP. They took their job of growing food seriously and understood that working in the fields is the mainstay of the project. They also had fun as they ‘built community.’ Whatever barriers to friendships existed at the beginning of the summer were surmounted by the end of summer; everyone was excited to come to work.”
In addition to growing more food than ever before, the YFP also added chickens to their project in 2012. In past years, the YFP borrowed or traded labor for the use of other farms’ equipment. This summer, with generous support from local funders, they were able to purchase some basic equipment. What YFP workers can’t make or trade for, they will continue to buy from locally owned stores, because they see themselves as part of the interconnected local economy. This summer, YFP deliveries were made to Collegetown Bagels and Agava; in the coming weeks, produce will be delivered to local schools and to the Full Plate CSA.
At the end of the summer and later this fall, the YFP will be making currant-raspberry-jalapeno jams and various salsas. They’ll sell these products at farmers markets and at Congo Square, and share with Loaves and Fishes. What they can’t can, cook or share, they will freeze.“It’s taken time for people to get to know us, but we are continuing to become better farmers and become more connected with others each year, and people in the community appreciate that,” Simon said.Now that the YFP is winding down for the summer, Simon is turning to his newest challenge — to bring what he has learned to incarcerated teens. Simon and Anna Susmann, co-owner with husband Herb of the beautiful Besemer Greenhouses, have created a program where teens will grow vegetables in a small greenhouse while talking about gardening, world food distribution, world hunger and all the intertwined topics.
Born in Guatemala, Simon arrived in Ithaca to live with Gail and Zellman Warhaft when he was 6 months old. He wonders what his life would have been like if his parents had not found him. He feels he has been surrounded by all that he needed to become the person he is today, and this propels him to share his good fortune with others.
“My parents helped us think about others,” he said. “I am extremely fortunate to be in my current situation, and I want to help others have opportunities, too. I see value in others, and I try to help others realize their potential.”
Simon has seen the YFP grow stronger each summer. They’ve faced challenges, and they’ve made adjustments adding lots of mulching, cover crops and crop rotations. The weeds are minimal now with just routine maintenance. Everything is good and will only continue to get better".
This article is by Erin Barrett of the Ithaca Times. The original link is http://www.ithaca.com/news/youth-farm-project-breeds-experiences-opportunity/article_dc807866-14f2-11e3-be60-0019bb2963f4.html.
"Around noon on a late August day, the barn of the Youth Farm Project at Three Swallows Farm is a pleasant commotion of two dozen bustling teenagers preparing food for a dinner to be held that evening for around 90 parents and YFP supporters.
The teens work in circles at various tables, chopping vegetables, hand-mixing egg yolks and oil, bodies keeping time with the music, capable and focused. A group of boys pass by daring each other to drink the by-product of one recipe: zucchini juice.
“Why not,” one replied, “zucchinis taste great; the juice can’t be that bad.” Not a bad way to spend a summer.
Ann Piombino, manager and founding member of YFP, explained the project was started four years ago as “a way of having youth become an integral part of a sustainable food system and to create job opportunities.” YFP was the result of collaboration between Three Swallows Farm, the Full Plate Farm Collective CSA, the Southside Community Center and Lehman Alternative Community School. The project employs youth ages 14-18, from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, for a seven-week program that focuses on sustainable farming practices. The teens work on the farm for four hours a day, three days a week, and spend Wednesdays in a classroom setting, learning about social and food justice issues from local volunteers in the morning, and new vegetarian recipes from local chefs in the afternoon.
These development sessions are a favorite of many of the YFP participants. As Simon Warhaft, 21, a three-year volunteer of YFP, explained “there is an epidemic of not knowing where our food comes from and being around the YFP staff and volunteers I saw that I could make a real impact in the community.” Warhaft continued, “the program really helps kids focus on the positive impacts of their actions on the environment.”
In addition to farming skills and food and social justice education, YFP teaches communication skills to the students through games designed to encourage them to be specific and direct. Fridays on the farm feature “straight talk,” feedback sessions during which positives from the week are highlighted as well as “deltas,” areas that would benefit from positive change. During the first week of the program participants are asked to write one or two words on a chalkboard that express what they hope to get from their seven weeks with YFP. The board is kept in the barn throughout the program; the list is thoughtful and mature and features goals such as: trust, exposure, accomplishment, commitment, and consideration.
YFP’s five acre farm is contracted with Full Plate, maintaining the U-pick field for CSA members, the Beverly J. Martin Elementary Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Snack program, the Ithaca City School District and LACS lunch programs, and YFP produce is sold at the Friday night Congo Square Market. Many of the teens also listed producing food for the local schools as one of their favorite aspects of the program. As Anna Pensky, 16, stated, “I like getting to see what my efforts produce and getting to share that with classmates in school.”
YFP funds the workers through multiple sources, including grants, the Town of Danby, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Workforce NY, and Youth Employment Services. Last year YES and YFP began employing three or four students per season, throughout the school year. The students work after school two days a week and on Saturdays, harvesting and cleaning up in the fall, making and canning jams and salsas during the winter, and preparing the farm for planting in the spring.
Due to limited transportation to and from the farm during the school year, Mike Smith, a program leader at YES, drives the students from school to the farm, works alongside them and brings them home in the evening. Smith said of Piombino, “Ann really works to support the kids and the community and we like to support her.”
Rayna Joyce, 15, was one of the students working on the farm last school year. Standing in the loft of the barn amidst rows of hanging garlic lit by shafts of afternoon sunlight, the swallows that inspired the farm’s name flitting in and out, Joyce demonstrated confidence and maturity beyond her years.
“The community aspect,” she replied when asked her favorite aspect of YFP, “the project brings together diverse youth from around the community who may never have met. Working in the field you’re talking with each other, learning powerful stuff together, that really brings people together in a unique way.”
Saturdays at YFP are community work days, members of the community are encouraged to visit the farm at 23 Nelson Rd from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to volunteer in exchange for experience and information on organic farming practices. To learn more about YFP visit its website at youthfarmproject.weebly.com."