Imagine standing on top of a small hill somewhere in Danby, NY. Beneath your feet are rows upon rows of vibrant, delicious vegetables: tomatoes, collards, beans that climb on poles, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, an abundance of kale, and much more. These rows gently slope into a field of untended brush and wildflowers. Below that are more rows, in which trellised tomatoes swell, and flowers that round the color wheel bloom in carefully weeded plots. To the left is an old, worn barn, seemingly touching the cloudless sky, where the sweltering sun beams down on you. Barn swallows flit in and out of the open entrance of the barn, dancing as they do so. As you watch, dozens of people, most of them youth, swarm out of the barn armed with rakes, shovels, and their bare hands. Within minutes, these teens have settled into their projects, whether it be mulching, planting, or (of course) weeding. Welcome to Three Swallows Farm, the home of the Youth Farm Project. Organized by LACS parent Katie Church, farmer Ann Piombino, Southside's Kirtrina Baxter, and LACS teacher Dan Flerlage, the Youth Farm Project has just completed its second successful summer as an educational and highly productive program. As crew members of the Youth Farm, students from LACS and Ithaca High School have joined forces and worked solid hours, learning about sustainable agriculture and growing abundant local, organic food for distribution throughout the community. The Youth Farm Project provides food for the Beverly J. Martin Fresh Fruit and Veggies Snack Program; Hot Meals and Market Box programs at the Southside Community Center and GIAC; and breakfasts and lunches for LACS. The Youth Farm also has weekly stands at two local farmers’ markets: Southside's Congo Square and Northside Markets.
But there is more to this program than learning what it takes to grow healthy local food (even when it’s been 100 degrees for the entire week!). While pursuing this primary goal, youth farm workers have also gained insight into a variety of the issues faced by communities such as ours throughout the world: hunger in communities with adequate food supplies, and the greatly varying impact of farming methods on our environment, communities and bodies. As part of the Youth Farm, we viewed documentaries such as "The Economics of Happiness" and "Dirt," and learned about other youth groups around the country and world that are working to move food into the hands of the communities that consume it. Youth on the farm were more than willing to answer questions and voice their opinions on how they got involved with the farm, and how they think differently now because of it. Solomon Magee, a rising sophomore at IHS and a community member at Southside, says; "It means a lot for me to help out in the community. I also eat a lot more vegetables now." Students around him agreed. Break time at the farm often consists of fresh cucumbers and other raw edibles straight from the fields. IHS’er Natalia Rathbun says, "The farm has given me a sense of accomplishment." This is apparent in many of the youth, especially those who have taken on leaderships roles this season. Former LACS graduates Joseph Amsili, Simon Warhaft, and Zach Furman all took on leadership roles this summer, acting as crew leaders and helping to plan our weekly activities. As one of our sum- mer VISTA workers, Joseph had this to say about his involvement: "I enjoyed learning to become a leader and educator. I've been involved with the farm since January and plan to stay involved this year."
The Youth Farm Project is valuable to the Ithaca community. The local schools benefit, families throughout the county gain increased access to healthy foods, and students learn useful skills while gaining a sense of purpose and empowerment. LACS rising senior Amanda Wagner states, "We've built a community amongst ourselves [at the farm]." This sentiment is evident when observing the diverse, intelligent group of young people learning about how to preserve our world. LACS teacher and Youth Farm Project leader Dan Flerlage wraps it up nicely: "Hard work plus good food makes everything better... We're building a stronger community and healthier future for ourselves and our environment one row at a time."
How to get involved:
As the school year begins, there is a great deal to do at the farm and at LACS regarding harvesting and processing the bounty produced by this summer's efforts. We can use a LOT of help with both of these endeavors.
Every Saturday in August, September, and October from
10 am to 1 pm there will be volun- teer sessions at the farm (23 Nelson Road, about 2 miles past Ithaca Col- lege). These sessions will include harvesting, as well as processing the vegetables that have been produced. In addition, we will be harvesting fall raspberries and as the killing frosts develop, be gleaning a variety of other crops from local farms. We strongly encourage all LACS families to get involved in one way or an- other. It's both rewarding and fun.. And then of course there is next summer's Youth Farm program.
If you are interested in details, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, we will continue to be selling produce at two local markets into the fall:
Friday evenings at Congo Square Market (Southside Community Center)
By Julia de Aragon, LACS 11th-grader