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".